It snowed that morning, the first real snow of the winter of 1944. The 71st and 324th Infantry Regiments climbed the ridges, skirted edges of woods, maneuvered against pillboxes and dugouts, fell into trenches left from the last war, squirmed into mire when 88's cracked. They flung their strength at the Germans in the particular little hells that only infantrymen fighting their lonely individual fights in mud and shell bursts can ever understand. The Germans held the first day. They were defending from pillboxes and dugouts, warm and dry, well planned and cleverly placed. But the artillery continued to roar and gallant infantry bought foot after foot of the shattered ugly ground with wounded screams and American blood. The next day the 71st wrenched battered Leintry from the enemy and the 324th was several thousand yards past its jump off line. Then Col. Robert R. Martin discovered a gap in the enemy front and snaked two battalions of his 114th Regiment through on the night of November 14-15. The next morning the infantry was tearing up the German's rear. The break through was on. The 44th proved itself in its first offensive.
above right- These tiny villages, in this case Rimling, cost the life of many a buddy.
Yes, the arrow moves in a smooth line and the infantrymen who made the route climbed hills and waded rivers; churned mud and stumbled over their own dead to keep the arrow advancing. When the 44th moved into the line in the Parroy Forest, near Luneville, it was October and the Higher Vosges foothill country was greasy black with mud and biting with cold. The infantrymen knew how to dig a foxhole to protect them from shelling, but they didn't know how to dig a foxhole that gave anything approaching comfort. The mess sergeants were a little uncertain about getting hot chow up front and no one was quite sure what the difference in sound was between a German mortar and an 88. During the start, each man fought his own battle within himself and gingerly eased himself into the hard, hazardous routine of combat. For three weeks, the 44th held a stationary front. The doughboys got their first shelling, sent out their first patrols, stumbled into their first mines, clubbed out their first German counter-attacks, heard their first German propaganda . . . "Come over to us, soldiers of the 44th, and have a hot meal".
They chewed their K-rations, plastered the propaganda speaker with artillery, and captured disheveled Germans who hadn't eaten for days. In those three weeks the infantrymen learned a lot about war. They learned so much that they were assigned to spearhead the Seventh Army's November 13th attack. Never before in history had an offense succeed through the Vosges, in any season. Alsace-Lorraine had to be cleared of the enemy and at sundown the day before, the artillery announced that the big show was starting. The 156th, 157th, 217th, and 220th Field Artillery Battalions reinforced by Corps artillery tossed 25,000 rounds out into those not now so strange enemy lines.
The 324th had reached the edge of Avricourt, an anchor point in the German defense system. Avricourt was the center of a saucer and the rim was a series of hills neatly catalogued by German mortar men. Key strategic and communications point, Avricourt had to be taken. So, Col. Kenneth S. Anderson's doughboys took the cold hills to the north, drove across the open flat valley and took the town from the west after killing and capturing hundreds of Germans, pathetic in their role of supermen. Germany lay ahead and the division streamed east with the German border the goal. The enemy was off balance after Avricourt. It's hard to plan and coordinate when the opponent just keeps on coming. Those Yanks of the 44th did just that to them the fight was one long round with no intermission. They gave the Wehrmacht no rest. Within a week of the jump-off, the 71st was fighting inside of Sarrebourg. It was the division's first taste of city fighting. Snipers were plentiful and persistent in Sarrebourg; but in one day of ruthless hunting, Col. Ercil D. Porters command cleared the ancient Alsatian city and learned more battle lessons by bitter experience.
That night, a Kraut officer was told that the city had fallen. He paled visibly, held his head in his hands and muttered, "Ach, my poor Germany".