Approach to the Siegfried Line
The following section is from the US Seventh Army Report of Operations, Battery Press, 1988, pp 678 - 686.

Approach to the Siegfried Line

West of the 63rd Division and holding a line from Welferding northwest to a point south of Forbach was the 70th Division, which was to take part in the limited offensive of the XV Corps by advancing its line to the north

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"...Through these hills and towns ran the first belt in a series of permanent fortifications guarding the approaches to Germany..."

in consonance with the advances of other corps divisions. Settled on the hills and ridges of northern Lorraine the 70th Division faced the outer cordons of the Siegfried Line. In front of the division was a series of hills, unevenly wooded, dominating wide, uncovered draws. A network of roads followed the valley floor, connecting the many towns and villages along its route with the industrial and mining centers of Forbach, Stiring-Wendel, and Saarbruecken, southern gateway to Germany's Sarre basin and a fortress city of the Siegfried Line. Through these hills and towns ran the first belt in the series of permanent fortifications guarding the approaches to Germany.

More specifically the mission of the 70th Division was the capture of heights along the Sarre River south and southwest of Saarbruecken. The reduction of Saarbruecken would be required for any future Seventh Army drive through the Siegfried Line, and possession of the commanding heights that gave observation of the city's defenses was essential. The plan of attack called for the seizure of high ground on the lines Wehrden-Schoeneek and Stiring-Wendel-Bubingen. The 101st Cavalry Group was to relieve the 70th Division in the Wehrden-Clarenthal area after the objective had been taken. The division attack was to be made with all three regiments on line, the 276th Infantry on the left, the 274th Infantry in the center, and the 275th Infantry on the right.

Continuous patrolling on the breadth of the sector had assisted in the discovery and identification of enemy positions and units. The enemy had constructed multiple belts of entrenchments and bunkers, wide antitank ditches, and other obstacles extending along the southern and southeastern slopes of the ridge system from the forest of Le Kleinwaeldchen south of Forbach to Le Pfaffenwald north of Alsting. There were two outpost lines of less formidable entrenchments, the first running west-east from Kerbach to Lixing and the second generally paralleling the Sarre River as it flows north from the area of Rouhling to Saarbruecken. Elements of the German 347th Infantry Division and the 19th Volks Grenadier Division occupied these defenses, while an estimated 800 reserves were spotted in the vicinity of Forbach and Stiring-Wendel.

One minute after midnight on 17 February the 276th Infantry, with the 3rd Battalion on the left and the 1st Battalion on the right, moved out through a heavy fog toward its initial objective, the hills between Oeting and Forbach. The main enemy positions in front of the 276th Infantry ran from Marienau to Forbach, through the southwest edge of Le Kleinwaeldchen, and then southeast through Oeting to the heights of Le Kelsberg. Against enemy small arms and antitank mines the 3rd Battalion quickly overran Fahrberg Hill just northwest of Oeting, while the lst Battalion took Le Kelsberg in the first hours of daylight. Nestled between these two heights and blocking the route of approach to Le Kleinwaeldchen, the village of Oeting was still in German hands. Simultaneous assaults from the east and west were launched upon the village by the two battalions, but the intense fire of four self-propelled 88mm guns hurled them back. Heavily mined roads prevented the arrival of supporting armor, and the 1st and 3rd Battalions withdrew to the two hills and dug in.

In the division center the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 274th Infantry had crossed their line of departure at 0430 hours on 17 February. Their ultimate objective was the clearing of Stiring-Wendel and the occupation of a sector of the heights south of the Sarre River, but first there was a series of hills and ridges and towns to be taken. The initial attack was upon the town of Kerbach and high ground to the northwest. Troops entered Kerbach easily, but further movement through the town was slowed down when the enemy counterattacked with tanks from Etzling and Behren. These attacks were beaten back by the accurate fire of supporting artillery, which scored direct hits upon groups of personnel and some of the tanks. By 1620 hours Kerbach and Behren to the west were cleared of Germans.

The 275th Infantry on the right flank had been ordered to assist the movement of the 274th Regiment by flanking fire and to advance on its own initial objectives, the towns of Lixing and Grosbliederstroff. With lst, 3rd, and 2nd Battalions abreast from left to right, the 275th Regiment had moved into the attack at 0125 hours. Following the reduction of several strongpoints, the Ist Battalion cleared the high ground before Lixing. The 3rd Battalion advanced against heavy machine gun fire. During the afternoon German artillery found the range and shelled the attacking troops. On the right flank the 2nd Battalion kept pace and advanced to positions west of Grosbliederstroff from which it planned to attack the town. In preparation for the attack the road into Grosbliederstroff was swept of mines during the night.

At the end of the first day's action the entire division front had moved forward approximately one mile, and 198 prisoners had been taken. The enemy had devoted his main holding efforts to the more important towns and road junctions. Fog and rain had hampered the operations; communications had been limited by muddy roads and fields. Supporting tanks, attempting to move cross-country, had bogged down and several had been abandoned. It seemed apparent now that the enemy's main defense efforts would be centered at Forbach, Stiring-Wendel, and Spicheren in the line of advance of the 274th Infantry.

Early the next morning, 18 February, the attacking battalions of the 274th Infantry moved to the northwest and crossed the Etzling- Behren road. After a sharp fire fight had scattered small enemy groups, the battalions threaded their way uphill into the thick forest of Le Kreutzberg Ridge, just south of Stiring-Wendel. The rugged terrain, covered by stretches of underbrush, was ideal territory for ambush. Time and again enemy patrols were encountered and driven back. The ridge was dotted with a belt of bunkers, solid concrete up to eight feet thick, covered with earth for additional protection, and excellently sited and concealed.

About noon a German counterattack from Etzling was forced back by artillery and the fire of self-propelled guns. Enemy pressure, however, was maintained throughout the afternoon as a force of about 12 tanks repeatedly worked along the road south of Etzling, posing a constant threat to the 2nd Battalion on the regimental right flank; and German artillery, directed from an observation post in Etzling, continued unabated. In the late afternoon the attack of the regiment was halted to reestablish contact between the units that had been separated during the skirmishes. At the same time the threat to the regimental right flank was somewhat lifted as the 3rd Battalion of the 275th Infantry broke through and took Etzling.

Early in the morning the 275th Infantry on the division right flank had pushed the attack. The Ist Battalion had penetrated Lixing and systematically worked through the town house by house until it was cleared. Some of its troops advanced from Lixing toward Etzling, cautiously picking their way through the mine fields. In the center of the regiment the 3rd Battalion had moved north of Lixing to approach Etzling from the east shortly after noon. After patrols had reconnoitered the village and its approaches, the battalion attacked. The action lasted just an hour; and 64 prisoners, almost the entire enemy force, were captured. Outposts were hurriedly dug in on the lower slopes of Le Pfaffenberg Hill, north of Etzling, which was the next link in the enemy's chain of defenses.

Farther east the 2nd Battalion had thrust its way into Grosbliederstroff. By mid-morning more than half the town was under control, and the German defense was concentrated in the northern end of the town. Enemy artillery and mortar fire from the east side of the Sarre River hindered but could not halt the battalion assault, and after a sharp fire fight the last German strongpoint in the town was reduced

On the left flank of the 70th Division the village of Oeting, still in German hands, lay before the 276th Infantry. During the night the road into Oeting had been cleared of mines; and, when the attack was resumed on 18 February, the village was easily taken before mid-day. After repulsing a small infantry-tank counterattack the regiment pivoted to the northwest toward Forbach. Between the troops and Forbach, however, were three hills covered by the thick woods of the Kleinwaeldchen. The westernmost of the three hills rose sharply from this strip of forest, offering a complete view of Forbach and the ground as far south as Oeting. Perched on the rocky summit was an old, red-stone, castle known as the Schlossberg. Behind its ten-foot-thick walls was located an enemy observation post for mortar and artillery. The capture of the Schlossberg was the obvious prerequisite to the taking of Forbach.

By nightfall of 18 February two of the three hills in the Kleinwaeldchen had been overrun. The next morning Company I advanced. cautiously to take the Schlossberg. Not a shot was fired on them; and, when the men scaled the outer walls, they found that the Schlossberg was deserted of enemy. Almost immediately heavy artillery and mortar fire began falling in the area. Between barrages the troops dug in around the buildings.

At 1920 hours a battery of 88mm guns began shelling the castle continuously and with great accuracy. Under the cover of the shelling enemy patrols crept up to the outer perimeter of the company's defenses, and in the pitch blackness it was a simple matter for them to cut the wire. At 2040 hours the artillery barrage was stepped up to even greater fury for a few minutes; and, as the fire lifted, German troops began rushing the castle from all sides,

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"...Perched on the rocky summit was an old, red-stone castle known as the Schlossberg..."

screaming wildly. The riflemen of Company I could not hold them, and the Germans broke through to within yards of the castle. The 81mm mortar fire of Company M and the artillery fire of the 884th Field Artillery Battalion were then signaled down upon the company's own defense area, and the effect of this counter-barrage forced the enemy to withdraw. The Schlossberg remained in possession of Company I, and the next move was the descent upon Forbach.

The assault of Forbach had begun late the same afternoon, 19 February. The plan of attack called for the seizure of the town by the 276th Infantry, assisted by the 3rd Battalion of the 274th Infantry. The road from Saarbruecken to Forbach was to be bombed and strafed by supporting aircraft in order to deny the enemy its use in bringing up reinforcements and supplies. The initial entry into Forbach was made by the 1st Battalion of the 276th Infantry and elements of the 3rd Battalion, 274th Infantry, as they forced their way into the southeast section of the city. The first two blocks were easily taken before flanking enemy machine gun fire and a heavy volume of artillery opened up and slowed down the progress. The 3rd Battalion of the 276th Infantry, less Company I, descended from the Kleinwaeldchen and joined in house-to-house fighting. The attack continued into the night; but against intense enemy fire and without the support of tanks, which could not maneuver effectively in the dark, operations were brought to a halt.

A fine drizzle and a thick fog persisted as day broke on 20 February. Displacement of artillery became difficult, and tanks were road-bound. The 70th Reconnaissance Troop, patrolling the division flanks, was paying particular attention to the eastern fiank, where the attack of the adjacent 63rd Division was not developing sufficiently to bring it abreast of the 70th Division. This flank was moving rapidly as the Ist and 2nd Battalions of the 275th Infantry, pushing against light resistance, captured the villages of Zinzing, Hesseling, and Alsting. A small counterattack east of Zinzing was dispersed, and the two battalions fanned out into the woodland north and east. On their left the 3rd Battalion of the regiment had failed in its attempts to drive the Germans off Le Pfaffenberg Hill.

In Forbach the slow, systematic reduction of the city was resumed. Assaulting troops of the lst and 3rd Battalions, 276th Infantry, advanced through the streets toward the railroad that ran through the northwestern edge of the town. The enemy was forced back house by house and block by block; and, as he yielded each small area, he hit it heavily with mortars and artillery. Simultaneously, units of the 274th Infantry, just east of Forbach, had worked their way to within a short distance of the Forbach-Saarbruecken road, while other troops of the regiment swept northeast to high ground between Spicheren and Stiring-Wendel. Spicheren Heights north of the town became the scene of particularly bitter German resistance.

On the morning of 21 February the weather cleared, and the pressure of the 274th Infantry, north and northwest of Spicheren, forced the enemy out of the town. Farther right, the lst Battalion of the 275th Infantry had pushed north along the Sarre River to take the forested high ground overlooking eastern Saarbrueeken. Two strong enemy counterattacks, however, forced forward elements of the battalion back approximately 1,000 yards to the middle of the woods before the massed fire of infantry, artillery, tanks, and tank-destroyers halted the German drive.

Farther west in Forbach the German 347th Infantry Division was receiving local Volkssturm replacements and some 300 infantry troops from the 719th Infantry Division, which was holding the neighboring sector against the Third Army. German defense still relied on the accuracy and volume of rnortar and artillery fire. By nightfall, the 276th Infantry held the southeast third of Forbach. The 274th Infantry had established two roadblocks on the Forbach-Saarbruecken highway northeast of town. The 275th Infantry had regrouped its forces southeast of Saarbruecken. More than 249 prisoners had been taken in this day of action, 100 of them in Forbach.

During the night there was no relief from the German shelling in Forbach, mostly from 88rnm and 105rnm guns. The next day resistance within the city was still composed of scattered strongpoints, mostly in basements that served as pillboxes. The Germans manning these strong-points seldom surrendered until they were surrounded. Attacking planes of the XII Tactical Air Command blasted enemy positions during the afternoon, assisting the progress of the ground troops; and at the end of the day the 276th Regiment had reached the railroad tracks. There the regiment paused to consolidate positions and reorganize its units.

In the division center the 274th Infantry took the main German defense line of pillboxes and bunkers between Spicheren and Stiring-Wendel and then met the full fury of the enemy on Spicheren Heights. The regiment had to commit all its forces to the attack to take the heights, although German counterattacks persisted for days. Not until 27 February was the regiment able to stabilize its positions on the heights, overlooking Saarbruecken to the north and Stiring-Wendel to the west.

On 22 February the 275th Infantry on the division right cleared the eastern two-thirds of its final objective, the woods south and southeast of Saarbruecken, and prepared strong defensive positions along the main line of resistance. That night a German tank attack was thrown back by bazooka and grenade fire. Enemy counterattacks continued during the next two days as elements of three German divisions, the 2nd Mountain and the 559th and 19th Volks Grenadier, took part in futile attempts to dislodge the regiment from these wooded heights looking down on Saarbruecken.

By the end of February the 70th Division had successfully concluded the first phase of its attack in the Sarre Basin. In the 11 days of the attack, its first offensive action as a division, it had penetrated the primary defenses of the enemy in front of the Siegfried Line and had established a foothold on German soil just south of Saarbruecken. More than 1,800 prisoners had been taken; and the division's casualties totaled 1,662, of which 207 had been killed and 231 were missing. XV Corps had thus fulfilled the requirements of the limited offensive on the Seventh Army left flank by bringing up the line to a new point of departure.

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