The authors wanted to record what they considered to be the most important lessons of their experience in Europe, and students of armor tactics may still find much value in these observations, even half a century later.
You may find it helpful to refer to the Crossett maps while reading this material.
Tactics: Spearheading through an infantry "bridgehead" and getting into the enemy's supply and communications facilities thoroughly disorganized a defensive-minded enemy. The speed of our operations prevented him from coordinating his defense except in the coastal forts. The Div did not choose to fight him on his selected battlegrounds but by-passed all centers of resistance. Where the enemy was encountered in defence, he usaully fought well and stubbornly. Unquestionably the Div by-passed far greater strength than it attacked. The enemy was unaware of our whereabouts most of the time and was surprised and caught off balance.
Supply: Resupply of the Div was made difficult by the rapid increase in distance between the combat elements and the army supply points. When the Div had reached the BREST area it was 205 miles from the nearest Army dump. It never went without food, gasoline or ammunition, however, because of careful planning and the tireless efforts of the Div Trains and QM truck companies. The Div's QM Truck Companies had to make round trips of over 400 miles to resupply the Div. Tribute must be paid the drivers who kept their vehicles on 24-hour-a-day operation through country still containing many enemy pockets.
Supply dumps and installations along this life line were subjected to sporadic enemy attacks. Some installations had to be protected by trains personnel and band members, and while at BREST some infantry and tanks were attached for convoy and large dump protection.
Loss to air attack was negligible even though the Trains were subjected to many attacks. The attached batteries of the 777th AAA Bn protected the convoys and knocked down many of the enemy raiders.
Ordance: The 128th Ord Maint Bn supported the Div throughout the Campaign by following the combat troops closely and maintaining continuous liaison. These companies worked closely with the units supported and usually set up in the vicinity of combat command service parks.
Throughout the operation 95% of all requests for spare parts and cleaning and preserving materials were filled.
All salvaged weapons, vehicles, and materials including enemy equipment were handled by a Salvage and Service Section.
Medical: To support the Div one medical company followed each combat command column and a third company was used to maintain their mobiliy by remaining static for periods when others were moving. Casualties on the march and in meeting engagements were for the most part evacuated from battlefield to battalion aid stations in less than one hour.
The greatest problem was the lengthy evacuation distance to the rear
of the Treatment Station. This averaged about 105 miles. The
Div had 39 ambulances in support from Army and these were kept busy on
18 to 20-hour trips to the rear. The ambulances were supplemented
by 12 2-1/2-Ton trucks. Operations through enemy held sections necessitated
complete reliance on the Red Cross of the Medical Corps which was respected.
Terrain in the SEILLE River area is completely different from that on the BREST PENINSULA. The SEILLE River is unfordable for armored vehicles except at a limited number of places. Originally, these crossings whose value could be determined only by trial were in enemy hands. Many small tributary streams cut the area into a series of low ridges and stream bottoms, nearly all of which are soft and impassable for tanks. On the ridges armored vehicles can operate, but two large hill masses dominated the American positions and provided excellent observation posts for enemy artillery. One of the masses was the COTE DE DELME; the other, MONT ST JEAN.
Technique of Attack: Since both the terrain and the type of opposition in this campaign were fairly well known, this knowledge made possible the fashioning of definite types of combat teams to accomplish different missions. A typical combat team, marked by the absence of reconnaissance troops and advance guard formations, consisted of the following:
1 or 2 Medium Tank Companies
1 or 2 Armored Infantry Companies
1 Tank Destroyer Platoon
1 Engineer Platoon
1 Anti-Aircraft Platoon
1 Light Tank Platoon
Supported by a battalion of artillery
Troops were so assigned by Div that formation of such combat teams could be accomplished by the combat commands. Even though Arty battalions were in direct support of combat teams, they were all controlled by the Arty Commander who could direct fires of the entire Div and supporting Corps Arty on any target.
Techniques of combat teams varied, but generally they consisted of the
application of great fire power with large caliber guns on enemy positions,
followed by infantry and engineer assault. All was one continuous
movement of fire power on and men into and through the position, and the
design was to drive the enemy under cover in isolated groups incapable
of organized resistance. The sequence was as follows:
1. Arty placed a heavy concentration of white phosphorus and high explosive
which produced casualties on enemy in the open, started fires, and drove
the enemy into buildings or trenches and away from their anti-tank guns
and machine gun emplacements.
2. Before the Arty ceased firing, tanks, tank destroyers, and anti-aircraft
guns as well as assaulting infantry and engineers moved in close to swell
the volume of fire on enemy positions. Through direct fire on likely
buildings and positions, the enemy was driven from upper stories to cellars
or pinned down in trenches or dug-outs. Moreover, this direct fire
destroyed any anti-tank guns or machine guns still firing.
3. Under cover of this barrage of direct and indirect fire (controlled by Arty forward observers and leaders of armored large caliber guns with the assault wave) the infantry moved on foot into the town or position and dropped white phosphorus and fragmentation grenades into cellars and trenches to destroy isolated groups or bring them out prisoner. A minimum time elapsed between the lifting of large caliber gun fire and the arrival of infantry on the objective. The risk of minor casualities from our own fires was of less consequence than attack on an enemy who had remanned his guns.
The effect on the enemy of this type of assault was decisive. Whole
companies surrendered without much opposition and, in one case where 182
had been killed by large caliber gun fire, a heavily armed infantry battalion
surrendered in ARMAUCOURT to a platoon of engineers fighting as infantry.
The Combat Team of which this platoon was a part also included one light
tank company, 1 tank destroyer platoon and 2 sections of anti-aircraft
supported by Arty. In JEANDELINCOURT, it was reported that an entire
German company which surrendered fired hardly a shot in opposition.
2. The 105mm tank howitzer is probably the best all-around large caliber
weapon in the Div. Under Table of Organization and Equipment it was
assigned 3 to tank battalion headquarters and 1 to each medium tank company.
It was found more efficient in most cases to fire these as a battery for
both direct and indirect fire, and their crews have been trained to work
as members of a battery. This employment permits tank battalions
to supplement artillery with great fire power delivered from forward positions
and with great speed on local target holding up the advance.
I. The original plans for the SEILLE River crossing called for a passage through the lines of the 80th Inf Div on the east side of the stream and a swift armored thrust to the SAAR. Operations of the 6th Armd generally adhered to the original plan, but no true exploitation ever became possible because of extremely unfavorable weather; continuous enemy-created obstacles, augmented by natural and artificial flooding; and a stubborn enemy withdrawal. What was to have been a quick, paralyzing blow became a tortuous advance from one fortified town to the next. Nowhere did the condition of the terrain permit proper deployment of tank and armored infantry. The advance was necessarily channeled into the few available roads and upon these routes the enemy concentrated all his available firepower. His retreat was orderly and his resourcefulness was illustrated in maximum use of road blocks, mines, well placed AT guns and dual purpose 88s. Virtually every town was made a fortified strong point and the old forts in the MAGINOT LINE were reconverted to stem the American advance. Wherever our attack slowed, the enemy employed his small mobile reserve of infantry and self-propelled guns to the utmost in bitter counterattacks. Against such tactics, however, our Infantry Battalions demonstrated thoroughly that they could outfight the best enemy foot troops as they captured and held ground in an infantry slugging match.
Despite the improbability of achieving surprise and the difficulty of swift maneuver, the highlight of the first phase of the campaign was the quick seizure intact of two bridges over the NIED River.
Only indomitable courage and complete disregard for personal safety, tenacity and skill of the Combat Teams made this stroke possible. Another outstanding incident of the period was the outflanking of ST JEAN ROHRBACH and the quick thrust into that vital road center. In these two attacks the potentiality for rapid envelopment by an armored division was revealed.
II. In many ways the attacks on MT CADENBRONN was a continuation of the first phase of the campaign. The advance, which was slow and deliberate over ground unsuitable for rapid tank maneuver, was made primarily by infantry elements closely supported by tanks and artillery. Terrain was usually passable for tanks, but steep slopes, soft, muddy ground and several boggy stream crossings made speed impossible. The railroad paralleling the MADERBACH River also presented a formidable obstacle. Two ridges dividing the area into parallel corridors were used as the principal routes of advance. Approaching on the high ground, the Combat Teams were able to gain command by fire and outflank enemy held towns which were generally located in valleys.
Closest cooperation between combat teams was imperative, since each attack was designed not only to accomplish a particular mission but also to assist other combat teams participating in the attack.
III. The final phase of the campaign - holding defensive positions facing Germany - was quite different. Establishment of an outpost line, coordination of defensive fires, and constant patrolling became the chief activities. Patrols went almost nightly toward the enemy lines to take prisoners and to determine enemy strong points and possible routes of approach.
Although the front was stabilized and the enemy showed no indication of attacking, plans were completed for counterattack in the event of any offensive action and reserve elements were held on the alert. Since the attacks of the 35th Inf Div on the south might at any time force a withdrawal in the 6th Armd sector, plans for exploitation of such a move were likewise formulated.
During this period full opportunity was taken of the breathing spell to rotate troops on the line and rest as many men as possible. Vehicle maintenance was stressed and equipment was serviced and replaced.
The German breakthrough in the ARDENNES ended the SAAR defensive action
of the Div and outfits moved northward through LUXEMBOURG toward BASTOGNE
where another heroic chapter of the 6th Armd history was to be written.
The enemy was throwing his elite forces in numerical superiority against BASTOGNE and his preoccupation on this vital communications center cost him the initiative in the ARDENNES.
During the first eight days of the year neither side was able to muster sufficient force to break the deadlock. Lines swayed back and forth and fighting raged continuously, diminishing at times, but never in stubbornness. Counterattacks varied in strength from one company to a reinforced regiment, and all forces were accompanied by tanks. The Div attributes a great part of its success and the great numbers of enemy casualties to the large volume of artillery fire it was able to place on the enemy.
This volume of artillery fire, the greatest in the history of the Div, in turn placed a tremendous load on the supply facilities.
Trucks were kept running continuously in 250 to 300 mile trips to Army ammunition dumps and back. Gasoline loads were dumped and these trucks too were employed.
Casualties were heavy at times but never in comparison with those suffered by the enemy. The severe weather added to the casualties. Twenty-five percent were from frozen feet and Trenchfoot. Medical service was always adequate and the 76th Med Bn established a holding company which reduced the strain on higher echelons of evacuation. This policy resulted in many men being much more quickly returned to duty when they were so badly needed.
When the Germans realized that their offensive had been lost, they tried to extricate their SS and panzer forces, sacrificing the less touted infantry. Their withdrawal to the SIEGFRIED LINE was stubborn and skillful but they left a battlefield strewn with destroyed vehicles.
The 6th Armd had a major part in holding and clearing the south shoulder
of the ARDENNES Bulge.
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Page maintained by Bruce Frederick Last update: January 9, 1998