35th Infantry Division Memory

For never forget...
Santa Fe
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Rhineland Campaign, 15 September 44 - 21 March 45

Chapter 8

North of Nancy

On 7 November General Baade issued Field Order No. 26 which contained instructions for the 35th Division's attack on 0600 8 November in the winter offensive of the Allied Armies on the Western Front. Thus notice was served on the German Wehrmacht that they were to be granted no winter breathing spell.

In this new operation, the XII Corps was to attack to the northeast to seize rail and highway facilities in the vicinity of Falkenburg, prepared to continue the advance to the northeast and seize a bridgehead east of the Rhine River. Within the Corps the 26th, 35th, and 80th Infantry Divisions were to attack in the order named from right to left. The 6th Armored Division would operate in the zone of the 80th Division and the 4th Armored that of the 35th, passing through the west and north portion of the 35th zone after Santa Fe troops had secured a bridgehead across the Rau d'Osson.

The Santa Fe was also to have close fighter-bomber support and five additional field artillery battalions: 191st, 802nd, 253rd, 179th and 738th in direct support. The 4th Armored Division Artillery was also supporting the 35th as was the 1135th Engineer (C) Group.

Within the Division zone the 137th was to operate on the left and the 320th on the right. The 134th was initially in division reserve.

On the morning of 8 November, after a 70-minute preparation by the artillery, the division attacked at 0600. The 1st Battalion on the right of the 137th sector pointed for Jallacourt and by 0720 had one platoon in the shell-wrecked town. But soon the battalion was pinned down by heavy enemy fire from the Jure Woods on the right.

The 2nd Battalion of the 137th reached the edge of Malaucourt at 0750, but on their left they were encountering difficulty in crossing the Rau d'Osson, where flood waters of the Seille had backed up into the normally small stream. However, during the latter part of the morning they crossed and took the high bridge northwest of Malaucourt and fought into the town itself. By evening, supported by armor, the 35th had cleared Jallaucourt, and the 137th was fighting in the Jure Woods.

The 3rd Battalion, 320th with Company C of the 737th Tank Battalion attached, had also jumped off at 0600, and in less than an hour and a half had moved into Fresnes. By noon the 2nd Battalion was starting to enter the heavily fortified Forest de Chateau Salins after crossing the open approaches under heavy and intense mortar and artillery fire.

The next day the 137th struck toward Oriocourt, two miles northeast of Jallaucourt, and the Saulnois Woods. Moderate resistance was encountered inside the woods, but the men advanced steadily. By 1400 these woods had been cleared and the 137th moved on toward Lemoncourt.

The 1st Battalion of the 137th then took Oriocourt, capturing 150 prisoners and an entire battery of field artillery. Then they turned east, crossing the Metz-Chateau Salins Railroad and Highway, seized Laneuveville and occupied the high ground east of the town.

Lemoncourt was then taken and, two kilometers to the north, Delme was occupied. The German withdrawal was now becoming more hurried, and as the Santa Fe overran one position after another, the Germans began to surrender in large groups.

The 4th Armored moved up during the day, passing through Malaucourt and Lemoncourt. Elements of the 4th then thrust beyond the 35th's lines to Viviers, but during the night the Germans retook the town, capturing two ambulances and four wounded Americans.

The next day the 137th set out with the object of retaking Viviers, and occupying the woods south of town. They moved east from the Delme-Con-Jeux area, and together with the 4th Armored, attacked from the south at about 1100. Tough resistance was met as the Germans had now erected defenses in the town and laid down heavy artillery fire from the east. Tanks were having a great deal of trouble maneuvering because of the deep mud, but the doughboys kept up their pressure. After a full afternoon of fighting, the 137th had E and F Companies in Viviers.

Viviers was aflame and the battle raged from house to house. Before the day was out, however, it was secured and fifty prisoners were taken and many more Germans killed or wounded. Rescued were the four wounded Americans who had been captured the previous day and one of the two lost ambulances was recovered.

Meanwhile, the 320th was still clearing the Chateau Salins Forest in a bitter battle. On the 9th, the 134th, which had been in division reserve, entered the fight, aided in clearing the woods south of Coutures and captured the town itself. Despite intense machine gun and mortar fire the regiment continued its advance and took Amelecourt.

The Germans were now off balance and the 134th moved in to deliver the knockout blow. On Armistice Day, Gerbecourt fell. Along the Chateau Salins-Sarreguemines highway the regiment advanced as Vaxy, Vannecourt and Achain were liberated.

It was in the battle of Achain that Staff Sergeant Junior J. Spurrior, Bluefield, W. Virginia, 2nd Battalion, 134th, became the first winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Santa Fe. Spurrior was literally a "one man army" as he moved into the town alone and single handedly killed twenty-five Germans and captured two officers and eighteen enlisted men. It was a "Double envelopment" with Spurrior swinging in from the west while the 2nd Battalion came from the east.

The other fighting on Armistice Day centered around Fontenay. The enemy had been expected to follow his usual tactics and withdraw during the previous night. Such was not the case; on the contrary, daylight found the Germans occupying the town in considerable strength. In addition there were strong positions on the high ground behind Fontenay and in the woods to the southwest. But by mid-afternoon the 137th had cleared much of the town and as darkness fell they were in possession of most of it.

Faxe also proved a stubborn bastion during this time. The Germans had built a great anti-tank ditch here which they defended with cleverly emplaced anti-tank guns. It was an infantry job and the next morning the 137th forced the defenses and by 0825 were mopping up the town itself.

Moving swiftly out of Faxe and through the Serres Woods, the 35th dashed east and seized Oron with such speed that the Germans were unable to carry out their planned demolition of the bridge across the La Niad Francaise Rau, west of the town.

The 3rd Battalion of the 137th sped across-country toward Chateau Brehain, skirted the north edge of the woods and took the town by 1400. Before dark they had also secured the town of Brehain.

The next morning they were slowed down by heavy small arms fire from a hill outside Brehain. But the battalion engaged the enemy with frontal fire, and then slipped sufficient troops around the hill to get in the rear of the German positions. Twenty-five prisoners were captured and the remainder were forced to pull out. Moving northeast, the battalion reached the crossroads midway between Marthille and Achain by noon, and then advanced along the main highway toward Baronville. Directly north of Achain they ran into strong enemy positions which were immediately attacked and taken. But heavy fire was coming down from the high ground to the northeast. Without hesitation, 137th troops attacked and dislodged the Germans from this harassing position. Meanwhile the 137th's 2nd Battalion had attacked Villers-sur-Nied, and after a street battle had driven the enemy from the town and gone on to take Marthille.

On the 12th of November the 134th had seized Dalhain and Bellange and gone on the next morning to take Haboudange and attack to the north of Pevange. The artillery and small arms fire was intense, but they moved on to occupy the west slope of the high ground northeast of the town and also the high ground north of Achain. Fighting continued through the night, but when the morning came the town was captured. They then moved on the take Rode.

The 320th completed its mission of clearing the Chateau Salins Forest of the enemy and went into division reserve.

The attack on Baronville on 14 November was characterized by stubborn fighting by the Germans. Despite repeated assaults they resisted with their tanks and infantry from dug-in positions. About 1600, however, the pressure was too great and the 35th broke through and pursued the fighting into the town, which was cleared finally at 1710.

The same day, in conjunction with Combat Command B of the 4th Armored, the division attacked Destry. Though the armor was held up for a while by heavy artillery action, shortly after noon the tanks by-passed the town and the 2nd Battalion, 137th, entered, securing it by evening. Patrols were then sent to the railroad, two kilometers northeast of the town. Again the division was on the objective.

It was clear that the enemy was desperately plugging the gaps in his line with troops hastily taken from any other point where they weren't needed so badly. Many replacements had just arrived and without any orientation were thrown into the fray, armed only with basic weapons and an order to hold at all costs.

After seizing a portion of the Metz-Benestroff Railroad, the 3rd Battalion, 137th, jumped off during the afternoon of 15 November and in the face of heavy artillery fire, seized Hill 264 overlooking the railroad north of the Etange De Mutche.

The 134th was also busy during this period and had seized Hills 319, 257, 260 and 273, placing themselves in a position to attack Morhange. This was a garrison town in this section for the enemy and he had concentrated large stores of supplies and equipment here. A large portion of the east portion of the town was taken up by permanent German barracks.

On the night of 14 November, the 216th Field Artillery Battalion received its strangest mission. "Put 1,000 rounds into Morhange between now and 0600. Your sector is grid square 20-36. 20-37. and 21.37. Pick your own targets."

The battalion did not quite comply with the order. They only fired 999 rounds on the 42 different targets. Other light artillery battalions had similar firing orders for other portions of the town.

At 1030 the next morning, following a 10-minute artillery preparation, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 134th, attacked the town and by mid-afternoon had captured it. Then the regiment proceeded to secure the railroad track northeast of the town.

The Santa Fe had moved so swiftly from the Chateau Salins Forest to Morhange that the Germans had been unable to move their materiel. The amount captured in the campaign was so great that it is of interest to list the items taken:

150mm artillery pieces - 6
Rounds bazooka ammunition - 500
Round artillery ammunition - 5,005
Rounds small arms ammunition - 100,000
Truckloads ammunition - 2
Ammunition dumps - 3
Wagon load of barbed wire - 1
Tanks - 28
Half-tracks - 15
Cargo trucks - 10
Motorcycle - 6
105mm guns - 6
88mm guns - 15
75mm howitzers - 4
Anti-tank guns - 44
Anti-aircraft guns - 13
Mortars - 18
Rifles - 893
Rounds 120mm mortar ammunition - 30
Barrels rifle ammunition - 10
20mm anti-aircraft guns - 6
Chow wagons - 3
Hand wagons - 15
Rounds 88mm ammunition - 510
Command car - 1
Grenades - 15,096
Pistols - 47
Automatic rifles - 19
Mines - 274
Rounds 20mm ammunition - 600
Personnel carriers - 2
Panel body truck -1
Ambulance - 1
Jeeps (American, recaptured) - 2

In addition to this, close to 2,000 prisoners were captured.

On 18 November the 35th resumed the attack with the 137th and 320th abreast. The 137th jumped off at 0800, swung around the Etang de Mutche and proceeded toward Harprich from the south. Very little resistance was encountered, and the 1st Battalion entered the town at 0900. They were immediately subjected to artillery and mortar fire as the Germans laid down a terrific barrage along the Berig-Vintrange Road to harass any advances along that route. Nevertheless the Yanks moved on to Berig-Vintrange and there met the most stubborn resistance the Germans had offered for some time. The enemy had considerable armor in the town and held the high ground in the east.

Santa Fe artillery was directed on the town, knocking out three tanks. Shortly before noon the 654th Tank Destroyer vehicles moved in. Those Germans who were not already eliminated, withdrew to the high ground east of the town. Again the Yanks were subject to a withering fire.

Further advance at the time was impossible and the attack was held up for the night. But during the hours of darkness the engineers continued removing mines and other obstacles left by the Germans. Many of these mines, including roadblocks, were encountered as the enemy used every available item from log and stone structures to hayrakes and other farm implements to delay the 35th's steady push.

The 3rd Battalion of the 137th had advanced rapidly during the day, taking the town of Bening, and by mid-afternoon secured Bistroff. The battalion had moved quickly across muddy terrain and surprised the enemy by a daring maneuver, operating far in advance of supporting weapons which were roadbound because of the mud. The surprise was so complete that the Germans could not counter-attack before carrying parties of the 137th had brought up ammunition and supplies. Anti-tank mines, hand-carried more than three miles, were placed to cover tank approaches to the battalion's position.

During the night the Germans blew up the bridge on the Bistroff-Berig Vintrange Road and shortly before midnight the 60th Engineers moved up and repaired it. The "Eager Beavers" could repair bridges almost as fast as the Germans could destroy them.

The next morning the Germans did counter-attack with tanks and infantry in an effort to regain Bistroff. One tank was knocked out immediately by mines and counter pressure as the 3rd Battalion, 137th, threw back the attack.

Then this battalion followed through with an attack of its own on Hill 315 to the northeast, taking a machine gun nest and 30 prisoners, several mortars and a 20mm gun. For their valiant action, the 3rd Battalion, 137th, became the third Santa Fe unit to win a Distinguished Unit Citation.

Combat Command B of the 6th Armored moved into the division area early on the morning of 19 November and passed on toward Bertring. They were met by heavy artillery and anti-tank fire, but kept on almost to Bertring where they were halted by an anti-tank ditch along the forward slope of the ridge to the west of town. Santa Fe infantry then moved up, crossed the ditch and secured the town.

After the crossing the doughboys and tanks continued on to Gros-Tengquin and seized it after a heavy assault. Then they captured and outposted Hills 305 and 272, northeast of the village.

The 320th, in the meantime, had moved off on 19 November with the 1st and 2nd Battalions receiving considerable machine gun and mortar fire from Bermering. By noon the 2nd Battalion was assaulting the town from the north, while the 1st Battalion had passed to the northeast of Vallerange. The attack continued until late evening.

Finally, after overcoming strong resistance, the 2nd Battalion succeeded in clearing Bermering at 0745 the next day. The 1st Battalion continued the attack, but was held at Hill 265. Leaving Company A to contain the enemy here, B and C Company went on to seize Linstroff early on 20 November. Held up initially at the small woods about a mile east of Racrange, the 3rd Battalion, with the assistance of elements of the 4th Armored, cleared Virming by 1715. Going ahead the next day, they entered Francaltroff and cleared the town by nightfall. The same day the 35th occupied Erstroff and by dark had reached the edge of the woods north of town.

On the morning of 20 November the 3rd Battalion, 137th Infantry, moved out from Bistroff toward Freybouse. After advancing over soggy terrain under heavy and intense artillery and mortar fire the battalion entered and captured Freybouse and another town north of it, Fremestroff.

The 2nd Battalion having jumped off the day before at 0900 in conjunction with Combat Command B, 6th Armored, attacked and cleared the Freybouse Woods. Resuming the attack on 21 November against resistance, they also captured Hellimer by nightfall.

On 22 November an order was issued by the XXII Corps which changed the mission of the division. Under the new plan the 35th was to be pinched out after an advance of from four to five kilometers. The 80th Division and the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions were to continue the attack to the northeast. The 134th was attached to the 6th Armored.

That day the 320th drove on Petit-Tenquin and Grening. At Grening, at 0105, five enemy tanks supported by infantry attacked the 2nd Battalion positions, causing one company to fall back. The 3rd Battalion moved up to assist the 2nd, and together they managed to restore the original position. The enemy launched another attack at Company G south of the town, but artillery and infantry fire broke it up. At noon German tanks put direct fire into the 3rd Battalion in the woods north of town. To nullify the effect of this fire, the troops pulled back into the cover of the woods.

During the afternoon, a patrol from Company L managed to enter Grening. Under continuous pressure during the night, the Nazis withdrew and the two battalions entered the town the next morning.

At the same time the 1st Battalion entered Petit-Tenquin and went on to seize Petit-Rohrbach. The 3rd Battalion occupied the town of Nelling and on 24 November attacked Rening and Insming. Both towns were under control by noon. The 1st Battalion next took Uberkinger and on the 25th the 320th took Hazembourg, Kappelkinger and Ventzviller.

On the morning of 22 November, the forces of the 137th cleared Fremestroff and moved on to Diffembach-les-Hellimer.

The 1st Battalion, 137 Infantry, together with tanks of the 6th Armored Division next attacked Leyviller. The town was enveloped from the left and the right and fell after a vicious battle, the Germans withdrawing to the north. The battalion quickly turned the attack toward the heavily garrisoned town of St. Jean Rohrbach, four kilometers east. As the Santa Fe troops advanced, enemy tanks on the outskirts of the town brought heavy fire to bear on them, heavy fighting continued until after dark.

The 2nd Battalion, 137th, moving towards Hilsprich was counter-attacked by the Germans from the Rabst Woods north of the Hellimer-St. Jean highway. The enemy was stopped with severe losses from combined machine gun and mortar fire and the surviving Germans fled back into the woods.

After dark the Germans returned to Fremestroff. A motorized patrol was sent there during the night and cleared the enemy out by 0800 the following morning. Altrippe was then taken and the Habst Woods were cleared.

Continuing the attack at 0800, 23 November, the 1st Battalion, 137th, encountered stiff resistance in its advance on Hilsprich. The town was well defended with tanks and infantry, and the surrounding high ground was alive with enemy dug-in positions. Six hundred yards west of the town the battalion ran into terrific fire from the Germans. With heavy tanks discovered in the town, the battalion commander requested artillery fire. The Germans threw back the battalion's first assault and only after hard fighting and severe losses were men from A and C Companies able to break into the stronghold. The main enemy forces withdrew to the east, until approximately 2130 when a coordinated attack was launched by infantry and tanks.

Breaking into the town at both ends of the main street the enemy tanks worked toward the center, firing point blank at buildings and troops, forcing the Yanks to withdraw to St. Jean Rohrbach.

On 24 November the 1st Battalion, 134th, with tanks of the 6th Armored Division, launched a powerful coordinated counter-attack upon Hilsprich, avenging men of the 137th and recapturing the town.

The 35th, with exception of the 134th Infantry, was now pinched out and from 27 November until the end of the month, elements of the division dropped back into areas behind the lines for rest, rehabilitation, training in pillbox assault, use of special assault equipment and organic weapons.

However, certain elements of the 35th still remained firmly in position. The 216th Field Artillery Battalion found that it had several thousand yards of range left. This was offered to the 26th Division which had relieved the Santa Fe. The offer was quickly accepted and for two more days the 216th continued to hit the enemy.

The assault on Germany itself now became imminent. Each man knew that the terrible effort of coming across the battlefields of France would soon bring the fight to German soil.

On 2 December the 35th Division relieved elements of the 6th Armored and prepared to attack on the morning of the 4th. The line of departure was almost the same location as the line the division had left on 27 November, extending along the Moderbach River from east of Foret de Puttelange to a point west of Puttelange, through the town of Remering on to Hirback, then southwest to the vicinity of Gueblange.

At 0400 on the 4th, the Santa Fe attacked forcing three river crossings in eight days: the Moderbach, Saar, and Blies Rivers. The 134th was on the left and the 320th was on the right. The objective was in the vicinity of Grundviller, Ernestviller, and Woustviller.

Without benefit of an artillery preparation the division jumped off. The desired element of surprise prevailed in the 134th sector and Puttelange was captured without a casualty. Seventy-five German soldiers were caught sleeping in buildings and foxholes. After being awakened the enemy fought back, but to no avail. The 134th was in to stay. By 0930 the town had been cleared completely. The 320th followed up the 134th's success by taking Diferding, Bettring and Helving.

On 5 December 1944, the first round of artillery from the 35th Division fell on German soil. The lanyard was pulled at 1436 by Colonel Butler B. Miltonberger, Commanding Officer of the 134th. Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Belden, Division Artillery S-3 fired the second round and Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Thompson, Commanding Officer, 127th Field Artillery Battalion, fired the third round. The gun section was the 3rd section of Battery B, 127th.

At 1850 the 1st Battalion, 320th, moved from regimental reserve and seized the town of Ballering.

In the meantime, the 134th Infantry had continued on from Puttelange and by nightfall of the 4th, Guebenhouse and Ernestviller had been taken. The next day the division continued the attack, the 134th completely overrunning its objective and advancing to the west edge of Sarreguemines. The 320th advanced to the Saar River south of Sarreguemines at Siltzheim. By evening of 6 December elements of the 134th had control of the west section of Sarreguemines. Other elements of the 320th established themselves along the Saar River for a mile and a half. By noon of 6 December every inch of the west bank of the river was held by the 35th in its zone.

Here was the most formidable of all natural barriers again, a river. Here the Germans would certainly make another stand. They always had made the most of the natural advantages of a river for defense and there was every reason to believe they would do so at the Saar. In some places the river was 200 feet wide but the 35th knew it could get across.

During the afternoon and evening of the 7th extensive reconnaissance was made for the crossing sites by the 60th Engineers. On the south of Sarreguemines a railroad bridge had been destroyed by the retreating enemy, but 2nd Lieutenant John S. Parker, Company A, disclosed that with only minor repairs, it could be utilized as a bridge for foot elements of the assaulting infantry. In the division right sector suitable assault crossing sites were also found between Zetting and Wittring.

The 81st Chemical Smoke Generating Company was attached to provide necessary covering smoke for the bridging operations. A Task Force composed of two companies of the 60th Engineers and one company of the attached 133rd Engineers Combat Battalion, commanded by Captain Louis H. Johnson was given the mission assisting the assault in the left sector. Another Task Force composed of two companies of the 133rd and one company from the 60th was assigned to the right sector.

Plans were now complete for the river crossing. At 0500 on 8 December the attack began. The 134th's 1st Battalion crossed on the railroad bridge south of Sarreguemines. By 0655 the entire regiment had crossed, but ran into heavy resistance on the other side. At 1130 a strong counter-attack was launched against the 2nd Battalion. From 13 to 15 tanks carrying German infantry participated. This attack was completely broken in 15 minutes by what terrified prisoners later described as "your automatic artillery."

In the 320th zone the crossing had to be accomplished without delay. The 1st Battalion crossing in assault boats and the 2nd Battalion, using a partially demolished bridge, successfully crossed unobserved and reached the commanding high ground on the east bank of the river. Defending SS troops launched a counter-attack here also but were beaten off. The 1st Battalion, in the middle of the regimental zone, after crossing, pushed on as far east as Didering. The crossing of the 3rd Battalion was held up by direct fire from the east bank of the river.

Immediately after the assaulting infantry had succeeded in securing the east bank of the river, construction of necessary supporting bridges began. The 81st Chemical Smoke Generating Company occupied high ground west of Sarreguemines and from there covered the Saar River Valley with intense clouds of smoke. This enabled the engineers to go to work. A treadway bridge was constructed over the canal at Sarreinsming, and at the same point a Bailey Bridge was begun. Another Bailey was started in Sarreguemines, itself.

However, the enemy soon found out what was going on and in some instances the engineers were subjected to direct self-propelled fire. Harassing fire was continuous, but despite this the bridges at Saareinsming were complete in 48 hours. Vehicles and supplies raced across and the bridgehead was secure. The 35th crossed another river.

On 10 December the 137th, which had been in division reserve, was committed into the action. Crossing through the 134th bridgehead, they pressed the attack. The 2nd Battalion was to clear Sarreguemines on the east side of the river and to seize a bridgehead across the Blies River in that area.

The first obstacle of the 2nd Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George O'Connel, was a large porcelain factory. Here the Nazis opened up with small arms fire and hand grenades. After four hours of dodging hand grenades, the last German was forced into the courtyard and killed. In this terrific battle Company F, 137th Infantry, covered itself with glory and was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation.

While fighting at the porcelain factory was in progress, the 3rd Battalion was assaulting the town of Neunkirch. After artillery had dispersed enemy tanks, the town was taken against strong resistance.

On 11 December the remainder of Sarreguemines was cleared of the enemy. Nearly 1,000 allied prisoners of war, left behind by the Nazis, were liberated. The 3rd Battalion, 137th, then pushed on from Neunkirch to capture the airfield and the town of Freuenberg. The remainder of the division drove sharply to the Blies River, the last barrier to German soil.

A G-2 report compiled by Lieutenant Colonel John T. Hoyne showed that the 35th had captured the following equipment in Sarreguemines:

Machine guns - 234
Rifles - 1,132
Mortars - 29
Radios - 5
Bazookas - 112
Pistols - 208
Tank Mk VI - 1
Vehicles - 4
Motorcycles - 6
Trailer (small) - 1
20mm gun - 10
AT guns - 2
Burp guns - 134
75mm SP assault guns - 2
88mm SP assault guns - 6
40mm guns - 2
Nebelwerfer - 2
Grenades - 2,150
88mm AT guns - 3
Command car - 1
Mines (Misc.) - 18
Vehicles (Misc.) - 11
Ordnance Shop (complete) - 1
Power shovel - 1
Volkswagons - 3
Half-tracks -6
Small arms (rounds) - 50,500
Artillery (rounds) - 6,530
Bazooka (rounds) - 1,500

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