As the U.S. XV Corps, consisting of the 44th Infantry, 45th Infantry, 100th Infantry and 12th Armored Divisions, approached the German border, in early December 1944, the Germans stubbornly delayed the advance by forming strong-points around key road junctions and at Maginot positions. The missed opportunity to end the war in 1944, after the fall of France, would be paid for in blood. At Bitche, attached to the 44th, were the 749th Tank Battalion and 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and U.S. Army Aircorp P-47 units for bombing and strafing support. The assignment to reduce, capture and destroy this major (gros ouvrage) Maginot position was no picnic. Simserhof was yet untouched, undefeated in 1940, and was defended by elements of the well armed and tough 11th Panzer and 25th Panzer-Grenadier Divisions. Simserhof, a key defensive position in the German Siegfried Line, held the high ground and had to be taken in order to continue the advance into the Saar River plain and the Reich itself. The fortress was world-class and proven. And the Germans, always magnificent defenders, were now desperately fighting for their country and families.
On December 16, 1944 infantry and engineers from the 44th Infantry Division, with supporting armor from the 749th and 776th Regiments, clambered through the mine-fields, artillery and machine gun fire, to the thick walls of the most powerful fortress in the world. The mission: capture Simserhof, part of the Maginot gros ouvrage fortress, the Ensemble de Bitche.
At Simserhof, the 44th encountered, for the first time, the main German defensive line. Simserhof must be held. It was a critical part of the German battle line. Simserhof should not fall. The entire battle line bristled with sufficient German resources to beat back the Americans. According to sound German battle doctrine, the 44th should fail it’s mission.
As the battle raged, another began. The Battle of the Bulge captured the world’s attention, then and now. Consequently, the Simserhof Assault, and the entire American Vosges campaign, are relegated as historic footnotes. The Assault on Fortress Simserhof, as a part of the American Vosges campaign, are noteworthy historic encounters, worthy of our respect. And worthy of our understanding. Hitler demanded: No retreat. No surrender. Behind this main battle line lay an open path into Germany and the end of the war.
Captain McNair checks experimental jeep
mounted rocket elevation before firing.