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FJ Winter Helmet - Operation Nordwind

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    #76
    Spectacular helmet and history all around Walter! Great post. Do you know if PFC Strycharz ever got his Purple Heart after his inquiry? -Frank

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      #77
      Great thread walter
      sigpicRanger Boats. There is no substitute

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        #78
        Jeez - just caught this thread - Outstanding research and helmet . Thank you for taking the time to share . Congratulations

        Comment


          #79
          When I attended a reunion of the 12th Armored Division (U.S.) in 1992 with my father, I met three men from his unit, "A" Company, 43rd Tank Battalion that were captured in Herrisheim on January 16th 1945 but I cannot see on your map where that unit is mentioned as being in the area. They told of being captured by young SS troops who wore camouflaged uniforms.

          Comment


            #80
            Thank you Lenny and Sulla, I really appreciate it!

            DennyB, you bring a really interesting point. I focused on a different sector of the front relating to Operation Nordwind because the 7th FJ Division was involved in such other sector as opposed to the area where the US 12th Armored Division was located. But I did some research and I must admit that the story of the lost battalion (43rd Tank Battalion) is fascinating. As you may know, the 12th Armored Division was, during Operation Nordwind, part of the US Seventh Army (which was part of the US Sixth Army Group). So, the 12th Armored Division was located in this area of operations:


            8765EEEC-BA69-4C30-8178-AC5A90D343A3.jpeg
            64BF6DAE-7B6A-46F3-BED6-60D4B6A48A5D.jpeg


            For those interested, I will include here this fascinating and tragic story here in the next couple of posts. It is fascinating how there are so many battles, so many stories that are completely new to even the most dedicated WWII historian. Anyway, here goes.

            As a preliminary matter, the following is a compilation of information based on (a) “Death of an American Combat Command” by David T. Zabecki and Keith Wooster, World War II Magazine, January 1999, and (b) “The 12th Armored Division’s Lost Battalion at Herrlisheim” by Nathan M. Prefer, Warfare History Network.


            General Background

            The 12th Armored Division was activated at Camp Campbell, Kentucky, on September 15, 1943. After a year’s training it moved to Tennessee to participate in Army-wide maneuvers and then to Camp Bowie, Texas, for additional training. The division’s combat elements consisted of:

            (a) three tank battalions: the 23rd, 43rd, and 714th;
            (b) three armored infantry battalions: the 17th, 56th, and 66th; and
            (c) the 119th Armored Engineer Battalion and 92nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.

            The division’s troops, who called themselves the “Hellcats,” arrived at Le Havre, France, on November 9, 1944, after a month’s stay in England.


            51E75EE6-E66A-4DC4-94E6-C4F0D542F477.jpeg

            Joining the Seventh U.S. Army

            The 12th Armored Division, commanded at that time by Maj. Gen. Roderick R. Allen, unexpectedly found itself assigned to the Seventh U.S. Army, Sixth Army Group, one of three Army Groups under the control of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) commanded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Sixth Army Group was at the extreme southern end of the Allied front lines in France.

            The Sixth Army Group was also unique at this point. While half its units were experienced U.S. Army units, some of which had first seen combat in North Africa in 1942, the other half were French, the newly introduced French First Army. Commanded by Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers, it had landed in southern France on August 15, 1944, and had been fighting its way to the Rhine River and Germany ever since.

            The 12th Armored Division joined the American half of Sixth Army Group, the Seventh U.S. Army. Under the command of Lt. Gen. Alexander (“Sandy”) M. Patch, the Seventh Army was pushing north and east to reach the Rhine River, the traditional boundary between France and Germany. Moving up, the leading units of its Combat Command A entered the combat zone at Weisslingen on December 5, 1944, and soon relieved elements of the veteran 4th Armored Division. The division’s first success came with seizing the town of Singling and piercing the Maginot Line in its sector. After crossing the German border on December 21, 1944, the division was pulled out of line for a brief rest and recuperation period.

            In this most difficult season, the weather in sunny southern France was anything but. The area in which Seventh Army operated in December 1944 and January 1945 was a wet, cold quagmire of mud, rain, and snow. Soon the Americans were whitewashing their tanks to blend with the snow-covered landscape.


            411B98E6-E15F-459A-B554-0A7F339BC826.jpeg

            In addition, the local population could not be relied upon since the Alsace Province had been under German control for years, and some inhabitants were German sympathizers. In one instance, the soldiers of Battery A, 495th Armored Field Artillery Battalion were puzzled by the accuracy of German counterbattery fire against them despite their best efforts at camouflage. They soon discovered that a dog, which made the same journey past their positions each day, was actually carrying the coordinates of their guns to the enemy then returning home to its master within the American lines.

            Anticipating a New German Offensive

            A major conference was held at the French town of Verdun and among those present were Generals Eisenhower, Omar Bradley (commanding 12th Army Group), and Patton. Concerned about the massive German attack in the Ardennes, what would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge, the decision was made to pull Patton’s Third Army to the north and to halt all offensive operations of the Sixth Army Group. Devers was even instructed to give up ground if necessary to maintain a continuous front line with 12th Army Group. Devers was disappointed at his new orders, but they were obeyed. While awaiting the outcome of the battle to his north, he made plans for a renewal of his offensive in the first week of January 1945, when he believed the northern emergency would be over.


            BD529D8E-941D-43B9-A40B-D50ED8EF3533.jpeg
            633C6B82-E9D8-4823-BCBC-A2298E185BC8.jpeg
            A Stuart light tank of the U.S. Seventh Army moves toward the front line near the border between France and Germany while a truckload of German prisoners heads in the opposite direction.

            In late December 1944, Patch’s Seventh Army had six infantry and two armored divisions available. While the Hellcats were holding a sector of the front, Patch kept the 14th Armored Division in reserve. The frontline units had to hold a line that was 126 miles long, which meant that each battalion was responsible for a front of some two miles, far beyond the usual demands on a battalion. Because of priority given to the northern group of armies, supplies and equipment in Sixth Army Group were dwindling, as were sufficient replacements for casualties. Worse, intelligence officers began reporting signs of a German counteroffensive aimed at Seventh Army; whether it was a diversion or a real offensive remained unclear.

            The 12th Armored Division was now a part of the XV Corps under Maj. Gen. Wade Haislip. It was backing the frontline defenses of the 44th, 100th, and 103rd Infantry Divisions. Operations were limited to sending out patrols, repulsing enemy probes, and engaging in sharp artillery duels. Christmas Day, 1944, proved busy for the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion holding a sector of the front line. A determined German ground attack was repulsed by artillery and mortar fire. Rumors of a pending massive attack circulated, including the probable dropping of German paratroopers behind American lines. Roadblocks were established and passwords changed frequently. Several units, including Combat Command B, were pulled out to perform maintenance on their vehicles and other equipment.

            But nothing major happened. With no sign of any imminent attack from the Germans, Seventh Army pulled the 12th Armored Division into reserve on December 30. It remained on three-hour notice to move against any German attack. Replacements for the 62 men killed, 454 wounded, and four missing in action were being integrated into the division as the year ended.
            Attached Files
            Last edited by WalterB; 07-01-2020, 08:31 PM.
            When you go home
            Tell them for us and say
            For your tomorrow
            We gave our today

            --Inscription in the 5th Marine Division cemetery,
            Iwo Jima 1945

            Comment


              #81
              Objective: Herrlisheim

              The new year began badly. The anticipated German counteroffensive, known as Operation Nordwind, hit the Seventh Army hard. The German plan was to strike in Alsace and force an American withdrawal, delaying the Allied advance into Germany and giving German scientists more time to develop the so-called “wonder weapons,” which would change the course of the war in Germany’s favor. Knowing that Sixth Army Group had been significantly weakened while covering an extended front, the German planners also believed the attack would relieve some of the pressure on the southern shoulder of the Bulge. The ultimate goal was to split the Seventh Army, clear a way to the fortress city of Metz, and get behind Patton’s Third Army, disrupting the entire Allied line.

              On January 5, the German’s XIV SS Corps under General Otto von dem Bach attacked across the Rhine at Gambsheim and into the VI Corps' eastern flank. The Germans initially established the bridgehead with the 553rd Volksgrenadier Division and the 405th Infantry Division. That same day, units of the U.S. 79th Infantry Division, VI Corps, occupied the towns of Bischwiller and Rohrwiller in an attempt to contain the Gambsheim bridgehead. Another task force from the 79th tried--with little success--to clear the Germans out of the Steinwald, a patch of woods just to the north of Gambsheim.

              The following day, the US 79th Infantry made several more unsuccessful attempts to clear the bridgehead. Meanwhile, the 6th SS Mountain Division captured the town of Wingen, to the west in the low Vosges Mountains. That move drove a wedge between Patch's two corps and threatened the western flank of VI Corps, now heavily engaged on both sides and almost out of reserves. In response, Patch released the 12th Armored Division's Combat Command B to the VI Corps.

              The Germans continued to build up the Gambsheim bridgehead.
              On January 7, the German LXIV Corps crossed the Rhine south of Rheinau, threatening the VI Corps' rear. That same day, the XXXIX Panzer Corps started shifting elements of the 21st Panzer and 25th Panzergrenadier divisions from west of Bitche to the Lauterbourg area in preparation for a major push down the west bank of the Rhine. Near the end of the day, the 12th Armored's Combat Command B arrived in the area, temporarily attached to the 79th Infantry, and was ordered to immediately prepare to attack the Germans in Herrlisheim.

              By
              January 8, the Gambsheim bridgehead was about 12 kilometers wide and 5 kilometers deep. On its north flank, the Germans held the town of Drusenheim, situated near the Rhine. The southern anchor was Gambsheim, about one kilometer from the river. Herrlisheim, about four kilometers west of the river, was at the center of the bridgehead. The Germans also held Offendorf, about one kilometer from the Rhine, southeast of Herrlisheim and northeast of Gambsheim. American forces held Rohrwiller, one kilometer north of and across the Zorn River from Herrlisheim.

              Terrain and weather totally dominated the fighting around Herrlisheim. In January 1945, snow and heavy ground fog blanketed the region, neutralizing Allied air superiority. The west bank of the Rhine River was poor tank country--flat and open with small clusters of woods and crisscrossed by many small waterways swollen with snow and ice. There was very little concealment, and many of the bridges in the area had been destroyed. Those still standing were well-protected and under observation by the Germans.

              On January 8, 1945, Combat Command B, with the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion and 714th Tank Battalion, was ordered to attack the town of Herrlisheim at the center of the German bridgehead.


              Attached to the 79th Infantry Division, Combat Command B attacked Herrlisheim from the north on the morning of the 8th, while to the south French troops were to attack Gambsheim. Supported by Company B, 119th Armored Engineers, the actual attack began at 10 am. Intelligence reports indicated there were some 1,200 Germans in the entire pocket, but these estimates were later discovered to be far too low. In fact, Combat Command B was about to attack three regiments of the German 10th SS Panzer Division reinforced by elements of the 553rd Infantry Regiment.

              253A29AD-7E6E-4E71-B6EF-60EA69A1147E.jpeg
              M4 Sherman medium tanks of the 714th Tank Battalion, 12th Armored Division advance warily across the snow-covered landscape toward enemy positions near the town of Bischwiller, France, on January 8, 1945.
              Last edited by WalterB; 07-01-2020, 08:28 PM.
              When you go home
              Tell them for us and say
              For your tomorrow
              We gave our today

              --Inscription in the 5th Marine Division cemetery,
              Iwo Jima 1945

              Comment


                #82
                Trapped at the Waterworks

                Company B, 714th Tank Battalion followed Company A, 56th Armored Infantry Battalion in the attack, supported by both mortars and assault guns firing from elevated positions outside the town. Company C, 56th Armored Infantry Battalion, with a full complement of 251 officers and men, moved off to protect the flanks of the attack and join up with the French once Herrlisheim had fallen. Before that could be done, the company had to secure a group of small buildings near the Zorn River. These structures contained machinery used to control the flow of water from the Zorn to the Moder River, and they would soon be known simply as the Waterworks. While operating there, an American platoon rounded up several prisoners at a cost of four men killed and several others wounded.

                Facing Herrlisheim, the tanks of Company C, 714th Tank Battalion came under fire from enemy artillery and mortars. Attempting to join the infantry, the tanks found that a bridge at the Waterworks was destroyed, halting their advance. Instead, Companies A and C, 714th Tank Battalion took up positions along the Zorn River and tried to support the infantry. Their fire soon ceased, however, when ammunition began to run low. Meanwhile, Companies A and B, 56th Armored Infantry Battalion were supposed to enter the Waterworks, cross the Zorn, and clear Herrlisheim. Despite the early loss of one of the company commanders, the operation proceeded after nightfall. With a crossing accomplished, the Americans surprised a group of about 30 Germans who were moving across open, flat ground, apparently completely unaware that they were within rifle shot of American soldiers. Indeed, so close were the Germans that the Americans had to give orders in whispers so as not to alert the approaching enemy.

                Staff Sergeant Charles F. Peischl was first to notice that the Germans had become suspicious. He was also the first American to open fire, followed immediately by the rest of B Company. Most of the Germans were killed or wounded. Before the Americans could verify their success, however, there came orders to withdraw to the Waterworks. The entire 56th Armored Infantry Battalion, reinforced by Company L, 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division, assembled there.


                The Waterworks soon became a trap for the Germans. In the middle of the night mortars began landing in the courtyard, and movement was heard outside. Hand grenades from German infiltrators were tossed at the American positions. The Americans defended themselves, keeping the Germans at bay, until suddenly two enemy tanks opened fire. Because of an intervening wall, the enemy tanks could not fire down into the sheltering Americans, but they continued to fire at the buildings. Efforts by the 40th Engineer Combat Regiment to replace a destroyed bridge to allow American tanks to cross the Zorn were halted by the German tank fire. One of the two German tanks was knocked out in a gallant action by Private Robert L. Scott of the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion, but increasing German pressure kept the Americans pinned down. Wounded men had to be evacuated by the light tanks of Company D, 714th Tank Battalion. Supplies were brought up the same way.

                At daylight the German tanks and most of the enemy infantry withdrew, although more than 100 were trapped and forced to surrender. The 18 self-propelled 105mm howitzers of the supporting 494th Armored Field Artillery Battalion had fired more than 3,700 rounds during the night and into the morning in support of the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion. But so far no American had entered Herrlisheim. While the Americans decided what to do next, the artillery kept up a harassing fire against the outskirts of Herrlisheim, pinning down the several German tanks.

                House-to-House in Herrlisheim


                On January 9, the Americans renewed their attack on Herrlisheim. Once more the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion led the way with Companies A and B, with Company C in reserve. This time the attack was to begin just before dawn, secure the Waterworks, and then push forward to Herrlisheim by dawn. This would be an infantry battle supported at long range by the tanks of Company B, 714th Tank Battalion, still stymied by a lack of bridges across the Zorn. Captain James Leehman took Company B, 714th Tank Battalion forward, prepared to cross once the Bailey bridge had been completed at the Waterworks. Once across, he was to provide close support to the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion. The two remaining companies of the tank battalion were positioned in fields west of Herrlisheim, firing long-range support.

                The plan went awry from the start. As Captain Leehman approached the Waterworks, he saw immediately that no work was being done to install the Bailey bridge. He joined the rest of the 714th Tank Battalion in providing long-range support. In fact, the bridge was not completed that day. In an effort to improve the fire support, Lt. Col. William J. Phelan, commander of the 714th Tank Battalion, ordered Company A to cover Herrlisheim from the north and northeast. However, Company A’s field of fire was blocked by the infantry moving across its front.


                The armored infantry had begun its attack on schedule. Moving toward the town they were immediately greeted with heavy machine-gun fire. Then mortar rounds began to fall among them. Another company commander and several soldiers fell. Nevertheless, Company B pushed forward and reached a few of the closest buildings in Herrlisheim. There, enemy fire again stopped the advance. The company altered its direction to seek shelter in a gulley that ran nearby. By about 11:30 am, Company B had suffered almost 50% casualties in the open, frozen fields. Once inside the town, the Americans ran into a German assault gun and heavy small-arms fire. The light tanks of Company D, 714th Tank Battalion were again pressed into service to evacuate wounded men. The battalion surgeon, Captain William Zimmerman, later credited the light tanks with saving the lives of at least 65 wounded soldiers.

                Company A was also hit by German fire but managed to advance with fewer casualties, coming up on Company B’s flank and moving beyond it. Company A advanced halfway to Herrlisheim before halting to await Company B. When it did not appear, orders were received to enter Herrlisheim itself. Company C was ordered to follow Company A, mopping up as it went forward. Companies A and C entered the town at midafternoon and discovered that their radios did not work. A runner was sent to make contact with Company B, which remained pinned down in the fields before the town. Although the armored infantry began to clear the town in house-to-house fighting, the Americans were unable to contact anyone because of the radio problem. Niether Combat Command B nor the two battalion command posts knew anything of what was going on in Herrlisheim.


                House-to-house fighting has always been a risky venture. In Herrlisheim each American platoon took a street or row of houses and methodically moved down the line from one to the next. While a few riflemen stood guard outside the house, others went to the rear to check the outhouses. They then went to the first floor windows and fired into the house to discourage snipers or any other enemy inside. Next the door was kicked down and the basement investigated as the GIs worked their way to the top floor. Any civilians encountered were ordered to assemble on the ground floor. In Herrlisheim, several abandoned machine guns and antitank positions were discovered.

                The 56th Armored Infantry was making good progress when suddenly Company A came face to face with a German PzKpfw. IV tank. The Americans took cover from the tank’s fire for about half an hour, after which the tank withdrew. As they resumed their advance, several more enemy tanks were observed approaching. With no tanks of their own on this side of the Zorn River, the infantrymen were in trouble. Indeed, although there were signs of progress, the attack was coming apart. Company B was still pinned down and suffering casualties at an alarming rate. Company A faced at least three enemy tanks, and the defenders were showing a more aggressive attitude with snipers infiltrating American lines. Darkness was coming fast, and Company A was ordered to withdraw to the edge of the town and establish a defensive position. Company C moved to aid Company B, which was withdrawn at dark. Captain Francis Drass, commander of Company A, took command of all the infantry elements in Herrlisheim as night fell. As Company B withdrew, it lost its second company commander in less than 12 hours.

                Contact Lost With Headquarters

                As night fell German artillery fire increased. Enemy infiltration intensified into and beyond the American positions. Company D, 714th Tank Battalion did yeoman’s work in evacuating wounded and prisoners of war. Battalion headquarters of the 56th Armored Infantry sent a specially equipped radio patrol to try to make contact with its embattled companies in Herrlisheim, but it was stopped by German machine-gun fire. A prisoner reported that the companies in Herrlisheim had been wiped out. Captain Elmer Bright, battalion intelligence officer and leader of the patrol, also found some 30 soldiers from the forward companies who had withdrawn. They confirmed the prisoner’s report of the annihilation of their commands. With this information from two sources, Captain Bright turned back.


                The night of January 9-10, 1945, was a nightmare in Herrlisheim. The Germans in Herrlisheim, meanwhile, continued to fight back. That night, the Germans slipped more armored vehicles and white-cloaked infantrymen into the town. By 3 a.m. on January 10, the 56th Armored Infantry was effectively surrounded and cut off. German patrols wandered throughout the town setting fire to houses they believed were occupied by the Americans. There was no contact with any headquarters. American officers ordered their men to shoot at anything that moved outdoors and told them not to leave their houses for any reason at the risk of getting shot by friendly fire. Sergeant Peischl, still fighting with Company B, later recalled, “The Krauts seemed to have a system of first firing at a building with tracers to mark it, and then blowing it up with a bazooka or antitank gun. Some might have been doped up, for they would come right up to our doors, open them, and yell, ‘Komm heraus!’ We wasted no time in knocking them off.”

                F068DCA3-B545-4B29-BC18-BBFEC7815992.jpeg
                Corpsmen help a wounded soldier of Combat Command B, 12th Armored Division into an ambulance. This man was one of many wounded during the difficult fighting at Herrlisheim on January 9, 1945.
                Last edited by WalterB; 07-01-2020, 08:27 PM.
                When you go home
                Tell them for us and say
                For your tomorrow
                We gave our today

                --Inscription in the 5th Marine Division cemetery,
                Iwo Jima 1945

                Comment


                  #83
                  Another Day of Fighting

                  Dawn brought some slight relief. The enemy ceased individual attacks on houses, although mortar fire and snipers continued to take a toll on the Hellcats. As dawn broke over Herrlisheim American medium tanks appeared in town. Captain Leehman’s Company B, 714th Tank Battalion had finally crossed the Zorn on the just completed Bailey bridge. Now the tankers sought contact with the armored infantry companies beleaguered in the town. They knocked out one German tank at point-blank range and began shouting in an attempt to locate the infantrymen. Finally, a lone American appeared and directed the tanks to Company A, 56th Armored Infantry. A quick discussion between the tank and infantry company commanders determined that their force could not hold the town, and the tanks radioed back for permission to withdraw. This request was refused, and the combined force was ordered to hold where it was.

                  Once again the light tanks brought up supplies and evacuated wounded and prisoners. A thick fog enveloped the area, making movement difficult. One of the light tanks was knocked out by a German antitank gun using the fog for cover. After four round trips by the light tanks, enemy antitank fire became thick on the only route they could use, and so evacuation and resupply ceased. One light tank was trapped in Herrlisheim, two were knocked out, and only one managed to make the last trip successfully. Company B, 119th Armored Engineer Battalion was ordered to move into Herrlisheim and fight as infantry. Joining with the armored infantrymen, the engineers took their places in the bridgehead. That bridgehead remained static throughout
                  January 10, with enemy fire so heavy that any movement out of the protecting houses was impossible. Nevertheless, both battalion commanders came up during the day to take charge of their respective commands.

                  The 714th Tank Battalion lost two tanks to roving German antitank teams during the day. Its battalion commander was wounded by enemy artillery. Several M8 self-propelled guns tried to get into town to provide support, but they ended up crashing through the thick ice covering the local canals and remained there until nightfall. Continuous German fire and heavy casualties delayed and eventually postponed an attack to complete the conquest of Herrlisheim. The arrival of reinforcements and supplies was halted, and attempts to drop supplies by light plane were prevented due to the fog. The wounded were piling up at the aid stations and battalion command posts. As darkness approached, the two battalions prepared for another long night as tanks paired up with occupied houses to await the next German attack.

                  German Counterattack on the Seventh Army

                  Finally,
                  at 2 am on January 11, the order came to withdraw. The movement was completed in orderly fashion. Noise was kept to a minimum, and the tank engines were not started until they were ready to pull out. A friendly artillery barrage covered much of the noise and kept the Germans busy. The night was so dark and the fog so thick that the infantrymen had to hold each other’s belts to avoid getting lost in the gloom. Within an hour the survivors were back across the Zorn. The first battle of Herrlisheim had gone to the Germans.

                  The Germans were convinced that the Seventh Army was weak and that another strong push would bring success. Indeed, the collection of American and French Army units containing the Gambsheim bridgehead lent credence to that belief. Surrounding the German enclave were the 314th Infantry Regiment (79th Infantry Division), Combat Command B of the 14th Armored Division, the 232nd Infantry Regiment (42nd Infantry Division/Task Force Linden), and elements of the French 3rd Algerian Infantry Division. To overcome what the Germans viewed as a miscellaneous collection of forces, they committed their experienced 21st Panzer and 25th Panzergrenadier Divisions to secure the Gambsheim bridgehead. General Brooks soon found his VI Corps fighting for its life against three attacks from three directions. Several days of bitter fighting ensued.

                  By
                  January 16, the German attack had pushed VI Corps back along the west bank of the Rhine. Another attack was expected, but contrary to the expectations of Generals Patch and Brooks, it did not come against the main American line. Instead, the Germans hit the western flank held by the 12th Armored Division. The Hellcats had been ordered to seize Herrlisheim to cut the principal German north-south communication line with the Gambsheim bridgehead. They had moved into position and launched their first attack, which failed when far more Germans were found to be defending the town than General Allen had been led to believe. Normally a job for an infantry division, the Hellcats were the sole reserve available to Seventh Army, and so they had drawn the short straw.

                  Undeterred, General Allen ordered both Combat Commands A and B to renew the attack. The 12th Armored planned to renew its effort to take Herrlisheim
                  on January 16, this time with two combat commands. CCB would attack again from Rohrwiller, while Combat Command A would come in from the southwest, crossing the Zorn near Weyersheim, which was still in American hands. Combat Command A's actual objective was Offendorf, which would cut off the Germans in Herrlisheim. At the same time, the 79th Infantry Division's 2nd Battalion, 314th Infantry, would attack Drusenheim, and the French 3rd Algerian Infantry Division would attack north along the Rhine from Kilstett toward Gambsheim.


                  6188B4EC-8388-4EA2-BDD1-C622B566BB71.jpeg

                  The Steinwald was the key to Combat Command A's attack. Unless the woods were cleared of Germans, the plan would be doomed to failure. The combat command organized into three task forces. Task Force 1 consisted primarily of the 43rd Tank Battalion, and Task Force 3 was essentially the 17th Armored Infantry Battalion. Both had Offendorf as their final objectives. Task Force 2, consisting of the 66th Armored Infantry Battalion and a tank platoon from the 43rd Tank Battalion, had the vital mission of clearing the Steinwald.

                  Prior to the attack, Allied Intelligence estimated that between 500 and 800 German infantrymen and Volksgrenadiers held Herrlisheim. The Germans, in fact, had major elements of the 10th SS Panzer Division in both Herrlisheim and Offendorf. In the Steinwald, the Germans had one company of well-dug-in infantry, a mortar company, three anti-tank guns and at least six other armored vehicles.

                  The American attack went badly from the start. Almost simultaneously, the Germans launched a drive down the west bank of the Rhine from Lauterbourg, attempting to link up with the Gambsheim bridgehead. The 79th Infantry Division, to the north of the bridgehead, took most of the brunt of that attack, but CCB also came under heavy artillery fire and again was unable to get its tanks across the river.


                  At 10:30 a.m., the whitewashed tanks of the 43rd Tank Battalion started to move across the open field south of Herrlisheim. The Steinwald was supposed to have been cleared by that time--but it was not. Caught in that perfect tank kill zone, the 43rd Tank Battalion started taking fire from the Steinwald to its south, from Herrlisheim to its north and from Offendorf to its east. To make matters worse, the 43rd could not return fire into the Steinwald because the tankers believed American troops were still trying to take it. After 12 of his tanks were knocked out and another 11 were hit, Colonel Novosel finally ordered a withdrawal two kilometers to the west and requested airstrikes on the Steinwald.

                  The 17th Armored Infantry Battalion, commanded by Major James W. Logan, also took heavy fire during its advance. Some of the light tanks attached to the battalion managed to reach the railroad embankment, but they were quickly torn to pieces by German anti-tank fire from Offendorf and the Steinwald. Even the normally dependable 3rd Algerian Infantry Division failed to get anywhere close to Gambsheim that day.
                  Last edited by WalterB; 07-01-2020, 08:23 PM.
                  When you go home
                  Tell them for us and say
                  For your tomorrow
                  We gave our today

                  --Inscription in the 5th Marine Division cemetery,
                  Iwo Jima 1945

                  Comment


                    #84
                    The 43rd Tank Battalion Disappears Into Thin Air

                    Once again the armored infantrymen were able to enter the town and begin clearing it only to encounter increasingly stronger German defenses as they went along. The 17th Armored Infantry Battalion soon found itself surrounded in the town, cut off, and forced to withdraw despite strong artillery support, losing a number of prisoners. Major Logan’s final message to headquarters at about 4 am simply reported, “I guess this is it,” as his battalion was overrun. But what had happened to their support, the 43rd Tank Battalion? It would be months before anyone discovered exactly what had happened to the battalion, which had never returned to American lines.

                    The 43rd Tank Battalion, under the command of Lt. Col. Scott Hall (some sources give Lt. Col. Nicholas Novosel as commander at this time), had fought at Offendorf the day before, where it had lost 12 tanks to enemy action. As planned, the 43rd followed the 17th Armored Infantry Battalion to the outskirts of Herrlisheim and then turned off on its flanking mission to the east and north.
                    At 7:40 am, the commander of the 43rd Tank Battalion radioed that he was preparing to enter Herrlisheim. At 8:50 am, the 43rd Tank Battalion's S-3 (operations officer) reported taking German anti-tank fire from inside the town. Shortly after that, Major Ernst Tetsch, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 10th SS Panzer Regiment, 10th SS Panzer Division, advanced with several Panther medium tanks from Offendorf toward Herrlisheim. Running into American fire from the town, he lost one tank and his 3rd Company commander, who was wounded. Faced with an uncertain situation in very limited visibility, Tetsch withdrew to his regimental assembly area in Offendorf.

                    At about 10 a.m., the 17th Armored Infantry Battalion, now inside Herrlisheim, lost radio contact with the 43rd Tank Battalion. A few minutes later, Novosel reported his position to CCA as being somewhere in the eastern section of the town. At 10:30 a.m. Novosel radioed, "Yesterday was a circus compared to what it is today."

                    The 23rd Tank Battalion also took heavy casualties in its attack on Offendorf. By midmorning, Companies A and C had been reduced to an effective strength of 20 tanks. With CCB's attack in the north failing, CCA changed the 23rd's objective from Offendorf to Drusenheim. To reach Drusenheim, the 23rd Tank Battalion would have to cut to the north and either skirt or go directly through Herrlisheim. Late that morning, the battalion commander, Major Edwards, entered Herrlisheim to determine the situation in the town. Although the 43rd was still in radio contact with CCA at that point, Edwards could find no trace of them in the fog. Shortly after, Edwards sent his 20 tanks into Herrlisheim. They never made it through. They quickly joined in the fighting inside the town as they tried to support the 17th Armored Infantry.


                    At about noon on January 17, the commanding officer radioed his executive officer at Combat Command A, “Things are plenty hot.” Some garbled messages came in later, but no one could understand them or determine where the battalion was located. One message from the battalion operations officer reported incoming German antitank fire. The last message from the battalion commander reported the unit’s location as east of Herrlisheim, and a short time later a brief message was received reporting that the battalion commander’s tank had been knocked out. Nothing else was ever heard from the 43rd Tank Battalion. Some 29 American medium tanks and their crews had simply vanished.

                    While the battle still raged in Herrlisheim, the supply and administrative units of Combat Command A searched in vain for some sign of the 43rd Tank Battalion. Despite being overrun, many of the 17th Armored infantrymen had managed to escape from Herrlisheim, but not one man returned from the flanking maneuver of the 43rd Tank Battalion.

                    Early that afternoon, 1st Lt. Erwin Bachmann, Major Tetsch's battalion adjutant, rode into Herrlisheim on a motorcycle accompanied by two Panthers from the 2nd Battalion's 3rd Company. Bachmann set up the two tanks supported by Panzerfaust anti-tank weapons at a crossroads inside the town. He then ambushed and knocked out several Shermans, captured some 60 GIs and freed 20 German prisoners. Bachmann's force also captured intact four Shermans and their crews, which he sent back to Offendorf under guard. Bachmann then moved his small force to the northern edge of Herrlisheim, where he knocked out two more Shermans.


                    Bachmann radioed his situation to his regimental headquarters in Offendorf, requesting additional tanks. At about 4 p.m., the Germans launched a strong attack out of the frozen mist enshrouding Offendorf. Six Panthers attacked across the railway embankment into the flank of Company A, 17th Armored Infantry Battalion. That attack pushed the 23rd Tank Battalion's surviving tanks out of Herrlisheim. A few hours later, all of the 17th's survivors huddled in the dark in a single position on the southern edge of the town. There still was no trace of the 43rd Tank Battalion.

                    General Allen decided to leave the 17th Armored Infantry Battalion in Herrlisheim that night. At midnight, the Germans launched a large-scale infantry attack against Logan's position. The 12th Armored's divisional artillery fired back in support of the besieged GIs, but the German attacks continued throughout the early morning hours. At 4 a.m. the Germans mounted their heaviest assault yet, and Major Logan sent his last radio message, "I guess this is it." In the darkness and confusion of the final German push, about 140 Americans managed to escape and make it back across the Zorn.
                    Last edited by WalterB; 07-01-2020, 08:21 PM.
                    When you go home
                    Tell them for us and say
                    For your tomorrow
                    We gave our today

                    --Inscription in the 5th Marine Division cemetery,
                    Iwo Jima 1945

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                      #85
                      Piecing Together the Fate of the 43rd Tank Battalion

                      It was not until a day later that the mystery began to clear. An artillery observer flying over the battlefield
                      on January 18 reported several destroyed Shermans in the eastern section of the town. Flying just to the east of Herrlisheim, he reported five more. Then in a field on the southeast edge of town, he saw between 10 and 15 Shermans deployed in a circular defensive perimeter. Some were still painted white; others were scorched black.


                      A46642E6-2DF5-49DE-B4AC-CDDB9F5FF052.jpeg
                      Empty foxholes and destroyed American and German vehicles litter the battlefield around Herrlisheim. This aerial photo was taken a day after the fighting in the area ceased.

                      Allen immediately ordered a rescue mission. Company B, 66th Armored Infantry, and Company B, 23rd Tank Battalion, attacked but were quickly repulsed by the Germans. When a later air reconnaissance mission reported German troops and vehicles swarming around the motionless American tanks, Allen called off the rescue. Later that day Colonel Bromley returned to CCB, restored to his command. The command made one last attempt to attack across the Zorn: it failed. At dusk all American forces west of the Zorn were ordered to go on the defensive and dig in. The Germans now held the entire east bank and controlled all the bridges.

                      On the morning of
                      January 19, the 10th SS Panzer and the 22nd SS Panzergrenadier regiments launched strong westward attacks from both Offendorf and Gambsheim. The German attacks started to make headway, but fortunately for the American defenders, the weather began to clear around noon. Allied tactical air assets responded immediately with 190 sorties, dropping more than 100 tons of ordnance in the Herrlisheim-Offendorf area.

                      Despite the pounding from Allied aircraft, the German attacks continued through the afternoon.
                      At about 5 p.m., 400 German infantrymen supported by 17 tanks almost succeeded in attacking across the Zorn from Landgraben River. North of Herrlisheim, the Germans pushed across the Zorn and almost overran CCB's command post in Rohrwiller. As clerks and other personnel started to panic and prepared to evacuate the area, Colonel Bromley shouted out: "Stop this goddamn panic. We're not retreating anywhere. We're defending this command post; we're holding this line. We're soldiers; we have weapons; we're expendable."

                      The American line held, but the 12th Armored was in a precarious position at nightfall
                      on January 19.During the last 11 days the division had taken more than 1,250 casualties and lost 70 combat vehicles. Divisional artillery was down to less than 50 rounds per battalion--enough for five minutes of sustained firing.

                      Relief finally came when the VI Corps ordered the 36th Infantry Division to assume the 12th Armored's positions. By
                      9 p.m. the 36th Infantry's 142nd and 143rd Infantry regiments took control of their assigned sectors, and the 12th Armored pulled back. The following day the 12th was assigned to the VI Corps reserve, and on January 22 the division passed to the control of the French First Army for operations south of Strasbourg.

                      To this day, there remains some confusion as to the fate of the 43rd Tank Battalion. Intelligence reports that information received after the battle revealed that the attack of Combat Command A had unexpectedly run into the counterattack of the 10th SS Panzer Division, which had been ordered to enlarge the bridgehead. That evening German radio announced that an American lieutenant colonel and 300 of his men had been taken prisoner at Herrlisheim and that 50 American tanks had been captured or destroyed. General Allen and his staff could only speculate that the 43rd Tank Battalion had run into a well-planned German ambush and been annihilated. With no fresh forces left to him, General Brooks ordered a withdrawal of his VI Corps. Herrlishiem would have to wait.


                      In late February 1945, more information on the lost battalion was found. The 12th Armored Division’s graves registration report dated February 23 indicates that the 43rd Tank Battalion tanks that were found knocked out in the town had been hit by panzerfausts—infantry-held antitank weapons—while the tanks on the eastern edge of the town had been devastated by high-velocity cannons. The investigators found many German antitank positions indicating that both 75mm and 88mm antitank guns had been positioned just outside the town. The conclusion was drawn that the battalion had entered the town, been struck by infantry armed with antitank weapons, and had then withdrawn to the outskirts of the town, where it encountered a barrage of antitank fire. Some 28 destroyed tanks were identified. Contrary to the German report, the bodies of the battalion commander and many of his men were also identified. The report went on to state that it appeared from tracks and other indicators that perhaps four American tanks had been captured intact and removed by the Germans.

                      The End of Operation Nordwind

                      The Hellcats were not yet done with Herrlisheim.
                      On January 18, a task force consisting of Company B, 66th Armored Infantry Battalion and Company B, 23rd Tank Battalion made an abortive attack to try to reach any survivors of the 17th Armored Infantry Battalion who might be in town. On the flank, Combat Command B made no headway against the Germans. That evening orders came for the division to withdraw to the west side of the Zorn to coordinate with a general withdrawal of VI Corps. Some small German counterattacks were repulsed once the division had settled into its new positions. The next day the Hellcats were relieved by the 36th Infantry Division. The Hellcats moved to Strasbourg for a rest before returning to combat with the French First Army.

                      The Lessons of the Battle of Herrlisheim

                      The Herrlisheim battle pointed out lessons that had been learned earlier in the battles for Normandy, northern France, and Brittany. Inexperienced combat divisions often had to learn in combat how to maneuver their tank and infantry assets. In Herrlisheim the new 12th Armored Division too often separated its infantry and armor, particularly in street fighting. A good infantry-tank team was essential to clearing a defended town. Tanks alone in narrow streets with overhanging roofs were sitting ducks for German antitank teams. Similarly, infantrymen could not adequately clear a town without close armored support. At Herrlisheim, the armored infantry repeatedly went into the town without accompanying armor. Likewise, the attack of the 43rd Tank Battalion had no infantry support, which might have pushed the German antitank gunners back far enough to enable the combined force to gain a foothold on the eastern end of Herrlisheim. However, for an inexperienced combat unit the Hellcats gave as good as they took.

                      Perhaps the best summation of the battle for Herrlisheim can be found in the description given by Major Brendan Phibbs, the surgeon for Combat Command B. Writing in his memoirs, The Other Side of Time, Phibbs said: "Decisions now up to lieutenants, sergeants, privates, organizing confusion, calling for artillery fire, siting machine guns, building defenses. No bridge, no mass tank attack, no disorganized German home guard running away; instead, determined German infantry attacking hard out of mist and snow. Our men hunker in the snow, shoot at blurs. The battlefield has stepped in and is shaping the battalion's actions; colonels and generals may as well bay their orders to the moon."
                      Last edited by WalterB; 07-01-2020, 08:20 PM.
                      When you go home
                      Tell them for us and say
                      For your tomorrow
                      We gave our today

                      --Inscription in the 5th Marine Division cemetery,
                      Iwo Jima 1945

                      Comment


                        #86
                        Outstanding research Walter. I wish that I had taken notes when talking to the three men from Company "A" 43rd Tank Battalion that were all crewmen of the same Sherman and were captured together. They said they were on a very narrow street and had fired at a German "Tiger" tank three times but never damaged it although a wall of a building next to it collapsed. The tank commander gave the order to back up but a truck had pulled up behind them and the driver of the truck abandoned it so the Sherman could not back up. They exited the Sherman and sought refuge in the cellar of a building where German infantry in camo uniforms found them. They described the Germans as "young, dirty, and mean" as one smashed a cigarette one of the Americans was smoking in his face. Soon after captivity they were sent to three different POW Camps. They all felt that they did score hits on the "Tiger" but it's frontal armor was too strong for their 75mm round. They said some of the Sherman's had 76mm guns which were considered superior to the 75mm which struck me as odd. They felt that the "Tiger" never returned fired because they were "Ringing their bell" with their 75mm gun. They believed that their Sherman was captured intact.

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