Spearhead in the West, 1941-45: The Third Armored Division

By Murray H. Fowler; United States Army, Third Armored Division | Go to book overview

THE RHINELAND
CHAPTER IV

The Roer

With the "Battle of the Bulge" relegated to the history files, the Spearhead Division rested and refitted while the snow melted in the area BARVAUX - EREZEE HOTTON - MAFFE - OCQUIER, in Belgium. This refitting period continued until 7 February. On that date the Division started moving back to familiar surroundings. The new assembly positions were in the STOLBERG BREINIG - HASTENRATH - WERTH area in Germany. VII Corps took over a sector of the ROER front roughly corresponding to the sector that the Corps held in December when they left to take part in the ARDENNES Campaign.

Facing VII Corps ROER front, the enemy had two infantry divisions, the 353rd and the 363rd. These divisions totaled approximately 10,000 men. The'artillery of the 59th, 85th, 272nd, 353rd and 363rd German Infantry Divisions, as well as one GHQ Battalion were capable of firing into the American VII Corps Zone.

In addition to the ROER trench system, there was another belt of enemy trenches to be met before reaching the 'ERFT Canal. This belt ran from southwest of ELSDORF, west of ETZWEILER, west of MANHEIM, west of BLATZHEIM, thence down the western bank of the NEFFEL River. Most of the villages were protected by trench systems making them potential strong points. MANHEIM and ELSDORF were especially well protected, and occupied artillery and anti-aircraft positions existed around MERZENICH and BUIR. A stiff defense of HAMBACH WOODS was expected.

While the 8th and 104th Infantry Divisions of VII Corps prepared to force crossings of the ROER in the vicinity of DUREN, the 3rd Armored continued to refit and train reinforcements.

At 0300 on 23 February the 8th and 104th Divisions made initial crossings of the ROER which was subsiding somewhat from recent flood stage. The 3rd Armored Division was placed on a six hour alert at 1000 that morning.

The plan for the operation called for the 8th and 104th Divisions to seize the Corps Bridgehead line, shown on the Sketch No.22. When crossings were prepared and the bridgehead secure, the 3rd Armored was to pass through and attack northeast to seize ELSDORF area and secure a bridgehead across the ERFT CANAL in that vicinity, at the same time blocking any attempt of the enemy to move troops north into the ELSDORF area by seizing BLATZHEIM, KERPEN HEPPENDORF and SINDORF. Elements of the 8th and 104th Division were to follow the 3rd Armored Division closely to secure the objective gained, allowing the armor to continue to advance rapidly.

The 13th Infantry Regiment of the 8th Infantry Division was attached to the 3rd Armored Division for the operation. Its Battalions were, in turn, attached to the Task Forces of the three Combat Commands. The three Combat Commands were organized into Task Forces as show below.

C COMD. "A" (BRIG. GEN. HICKEY)TF "DOAN"
32nd Armd. Regt. (- 1st & 3rd Bns.)
1st Bn., 36th Armd. Inf. Regt.
3rd Plat. "A" Co., 23rd Armd. Engr. Bn.
3rd Plat. "A" Co., 703rd TD Bn.
67th Armd. FA Bn. (Direct Support)
TF "KANE"
1st Bn. 32nd Armd. Regt.
1st Bn. 13th Inf. Regt.
1st Plot. "A" Co., 23rd Armd. Engr, Bn.
1st Plat. "A" Co., 703rd TD Bn.
67th Armd. FA Bn. (Direct Support
C COMD. "B" (BRIG. GEN. BOUDINOT)TF "WELBORN"
33rd Armd. Regt. (- 2nd & 3rd Bns.)
2nd Bn. 36th Armd. Inf. Regt.
3rd Plat., "B" CO., 23rd Armd. Engr. Bn,
2nd Plat., "B" Co., 703rd TD Bn.
3rd Plat., Rcn. Co., 33rd Armd. Regt.
391st Armd. FA Bn. (Direct Support)
TF "LOVELADY"
2nd Bn., 33rd Armd. Regt.
2nd Bn., 13th Inf. Regt.
3rd Plat., "B" CO., 23rd Armd Engr. Bn.
1st Plat., "B" Co., 703rd TD Bn.
2nd Plat., Rcn. Co., 33rd Armd. Regt.
391st Armd. FA Bn. (Direct Support)
C COMD. "R" (COL. HOWZE)TF "HOGAN"
3rd Bn., 33rd Armd. Regt. (- 1st Plat. C Co.)
3rd Bn., 36th Armd. Inf. Regt.
3rd Plat. "C" Co. 23rd Armd. Engr. Bn.
3rd Plat. "C" Co. 703rd TD Bn.
TF "RICHARDSON"
3rd Bn., 32nd Armd. Regt. (- 3rd Plat. Co. I)
3rd. Bn., 13th Inf. Regt.
1st Plat., "C" Co., 23rd Armd Engr. Bn.
2nd Plat., "C" Co., 703rd TD Bn.

The 83rd Armored Reconnaissance was reinforced by the 1st Platoon of Company "C", 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion; one Bridge section from the 23rd Armored Engineer Battalion and the direct support of the 83rd Armored Field Artillery Battalion.

The 54th Armored Field Artillery Battalion was ordered to perform general support missions for the division until the committment of Combat Command "R", at which time the Battalion was to revert to direct support of Combat Command "R". The 155 mm Self-Propelled guns of the 991st Field Artillery Battalion were in general support.

The attack was to be made with Combat Command "A" on the right, in two task force columns, Combat Command "B" on the left in similar formation and the 83rd Reconnaissance Battalion, reinforced by the direct support of the 83rd Armored Field Artillery Battalion and a platoon of Tank Destroyers, following a route between the two Combat Commands. Combat Command "B" was to move rapidly to the Division objective while Combat Command "A" performed the blocking mission on the south flank. The mission of the Reconnaissance Battalion was to move as rapidly as possible to the ERFT CANAL, on its assigned route, and seize a crossing. The Reconnaissance Battalion was ordered to establish a line along the west bank of the Canal, if it were not possible to seize a crossing.

By 25 February, the DUREN area cleared, and it was apparent that the. Corps bridgehead line, would be secured, almost in its entirety by the following day. Accordingly, the 3rd Armored Division was ordered to move into the bridgehead on the day of 25 February and the night of 25-26 February.

Since' only four crossings of the ROER were available for the movement, it was necessary to move the 83rd

-234-

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