Part One: Overview and Planning
"On Feb. 1, 1945, the 324th Infantry Regiment of the 44th Infantry Division relieved the 71st Infantry regiment on positions. The 1st Battalion relieved the 71st Infantry's 1st Battalion on the left and the 2nd Battalion relieved the 71st Infantry's 3rd Battalion on the right. During the period Feb. 1-14, 1945, the 324th Infantry Regiment was busy at aggressive reconnaissance. Enemy positions mine fields and strength had to be fixed, maps, aerial photos and ground reconnaissance were supplemented by extensive patrolling and raiding parties by all units. Freezing and thawing during the period of Feb. 1-14, 1945, made the foxhole a poor sort of home, with "trench-foot" a serious threat, which had to be fought daily by constant inspections and strict disciplinary measures against officers and noncommissioned officers who failed to carry out the necessary safeguards.
The objective assigned to the 44th Infantry Division was a general east-west line from a point south of Eppingen-Urbach west to the northern fringe of the eastern third of the Bliesbrucken Woods. When the 324th Infantry Regiment moved into the Buchen Busch Woods sector on Feb. 1, 1945, the troops and officers of the regiment felt that an attack on the woods would soon be forthcoming. Although the attack was not ordered until Feb. 13, 1945, division, regiment and battalions were busy planning. The regiment obtained information of the enemy by patrols, from prisoners of war, by aerial reconnaissance's, study of aerial photos and from higher and neighboring headquarters. The 324th Infantry Regiment was opposed by the 37th (Panzer Grenadier) Regiment of the 17th German SS Division, an outstanding combat division. The 17th SS Reconnaissance Battalion had been relieved by the 37th Panzer Grenadier Regiment early in February, while the 37th Panzer Grenadier Regiment had been identified on the flanks. Contact was lost with the 17th SS Reconnaissance's Battalion after it was relieved. It was estimated that this battalion strength was between 400 and 500 men; it was highly mobile and was capable of hitting hard and fast, remaining a constant threat. It was estimated that the enemy units had about 60 percent strength and that 60 to 65 percent of the present strength was non-German. The enemy division was a panzer grenadier unit, undoubtedly the tank strength had been greatly reduced as not more than four or five tanks of the Tiger class had ever been observed in the immediate vicinity of the enemy front line at any one time. However, larger tank movements had been noted, from time to time, on the roads in the German rear areas.
The terrain in the area of the Buchen Busch Woods is generally flat to the south as far as Bettviller. To the right of the woods, a ridge line extends south to Petit-Rederching and north to Utweiler. This ridge line is bounded by streams on the right and left by streams which flow in a northern direction. The key terrain feature of the area is the hill just south of Utweiler hill mass to the south.
Our patrols located many enemy positions that were unoccupied, which indicated that the enemy was constantly shifting outpost personnel. The open ground to the west and east of the Buchen Busch Woods was usually lightly held by enemy sentinel posts, while the bulk of the defending troops was concentrated in the organized localities within the woods and towns. Raids on Rimling were always met by machine gun fire, and our patrols were never allowed to penetrate the Buchen Busch Woods, although at one time an I & R patrol approached to within 300 yards of the woods in broad daylight.
The enemy frequently used illuminating flares during the night and fired artillery and mortars intermittently on our positions. He also fired machine guns from positions along the south edge of Buchen Busch Woods at night. The enemy did very little patrolling in our sector (the 2nd Battalion, 324th Infantry Regiment), but we always found him ready and willing to fight when pressed. On Feb. 9, 1945, an enemy plane dropped three small bombs on F Company's positions.
Planning for the attack
Division issued a warning order on Feb. 8, 1945, for an attack to rectify and shorten the lines on or about Feb 15. The tentative plan of attack by division called for the employment of all three regiments on the line, the 324th Infantry Regiment on the right, the 71st Infantry Regiment in the center and the 114th Infantry Regiment on the left. This would decrease the frontage for each regiment which would allow a normal regimental zone of action for the attack. To accomplish this, the 71st Infantry Regiment would relieve the 1st Battalion of the 114th Infantry on the right of the 114th Infantry Regimental sector during the night of Feb. 12-13, 1945. The 324th Infantry Regimental sector was further reduced in width by the 71st Infantry, sideslipping to the right, taking over two platoon positions of Company L, 324th Infantry on the evening of Feb. 14, 1945. In order to provide for a division reserve, each regiment of the division was directed to hold out one battalion each which would be committed on division order only.
Upon receipt of the above plan and warning order, Col. K.S. Anderson, commanding officer of the 324th Infantry Regiment, called upon each battalion to submit a tentative plan of attack for the operation by Feb. 10, 1945. These plans were submitted and used as a basis for the decisions of the final plans for the attack. On Feb. 11, 1945, Col. Anderson submitted a letter to the division commander, which proposed the plans and scheme maneuver for the proposed attack by the 324th Infantry Regiment. It was believed by commanders and staffs of the 324th Infantry Regiment that the attack should be made without the aid of artillery concentrations to gain tactical surprise if possible. Consequently, Col. Anderson, in his letter to the division commander, made the following statement: "I cannot but believe that a preliminary artillery barrage will only alert the enemy and definitely destroy the element of surprise, without commensurate results. I also believe that strong offensive groups should attempt to infiltrate to key positions to the rear of enemy main defensive line prior to daylight, to cut off reinforcements and support the main attack; this to be followed by the actual breakthrough in force occurring just prior to daylight, with fight to take positions from flanks coming closely behind the breakthrough."
The plan called for the attack to be pivoted on a base of fire, consisting of .50- and .30-caliber machine guns, 57 mm guns, cannons, mortars, M-26 tank destroyers from the present front-line positions, with the bulk of fire directed on the southern edge and flanks of the Buchen Busch Woods. Radio and wire were to be alternate means of communication, and each leading battalion was to have distinguishing flares and code words for control of fire. The base of fire would open fire or cease fire on signal. The artillery would be used to fire interdirectory fire to prevent enemy from bringing up reinforcements from Eppingen-Urbach, Utweiler, and Gudekirsch and to protect the outposts and outer flanks of the attack. The opening of fire by the base of fire would be the signal for the artillery to fire prearranged concentrations.
The general plan of attack was for the two attacking battalions to advance in a column of companies with the leading company to be organized into at least two strong combat groups. The leading companies were assigned the mission of infiltrating, or pushing through the enemy lines to seize key terrain in rear of enemy lines and outpost same. The remaining companies were to follow closely and attack enemy positions from the rear and flanks, and to organize a new defensive line on the proposed main line of resistance. One platoon of heavy machine guns of each attacking battalion were to be prepared to move forward to the proposed main line of resistance as soon as advancing troops had masked their fire from positions to the base of fire.
The 1st Battalion, less one rifle company and the heavy weapons company, was to be held in mobile reserve in Bettviller. Heavy Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, was to be used to the base of fire, and the remaining rifle company was to be used to protect the base of fire and the right flank of the regiment from the vicinity of Mehlingerhoff Farm. The tentative plan of attack of the 324th Infantry Regiment was approved by division without exception. Filed Order number 12 was received Feb. 12, 1945, from the 44th Infantry Division and Field Order number 35, 324th Infantry Regiment, was published the same day.
The 749th Tank Battalion, the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion, the 895th Anti-Aircraft Automatic Weapons Battalion, the 493rd, 495th, and 495th Armored Field Artillery Battalions (105 H) and the 693rd Field Artillery Battalion were assigned to the division for the attack. The division order stated that the 324th Infantry Regiment would attack on D day at H minus 60 minutes. For planning purposes we were to consider D day to be Feb. 15, 1945, and H hour to be daylight of the same day.
The regimental order prescribed the base of fire which was to be established for the attack, which will be discussed in a later paragraph. The regimental order also allocated one platoon of tanks to support each attacking rifle battalion at daylight, on call. The tank destroyers were to support the attack by fire, from positions located in the base of fire area initially, and be prepared to move forward to the new main line of resistance rapidly to repel any enemy armored attack. Daisy chains were to be carried forward by personnel who were to take up outpost positions to protect them from enemy tank approaches to their respective positions. The Engineers, A and P Platoons, and the Regimental Mine Platoon were made available to move engineer tools, mines, and wire forward closely behind the attacking echelon. Possessing this information, we were now able to prepare our detailed plans, issue adequate orders, and discuss them with troop leaders in detail.