Surprise Night Attack, 75 years
It was put into motion 75 years ago this day, that the 2nd and 3rd battalion of the 359th Regiment, 90th Division went into action from the hill of Berlé overlooking Trentelhof and Pommerloch. With the 26th Divisions’ 101st, 104th, and the 328th regiments to their right flank north side and Task Force Scott on the left making their way to Sanlez.
The regimental lines (357th/359th) were running basically from Mecher-Dunkrodt through the hills East/West and down the center of Berlé towards Bastogne with the 357th on the left.
On the 9th of January, the Division had made its way to Nothum linking up with the 26th Division. By the 10th they had made Berlé and set up a regimental command post in town and battalion CP on the Northside of town in the forest.
On January 11, 1945, General Van Fleet had met with General George Patton in Division HQ. Sometime during this meeting a confusion of intelligence between regiments operational staff and Division G-3, General Patton 3rd Army in saying that the objective, Doncols crossroad and the hill of Bohey overlooking the crossroad which was a vital retreat and supply road for the 5th Fallschirmjäger and 9th Volksgrenadier Divisions trying to regroup.
The fix action of this “misunderstanding” was corrected after falling upon General Van Fleets ears with a meeting with his Regimental commanders (Col Julian H George)357th,359th (Lt. Col Raymond E. Bell) and then further down to his Battalions: 2nd /359(Lt. Col. Robert Booth) and 2nd /357th (Lt. Col Rossow) and the 3rd /357th (Lt. Col Mason John H), 3rd /359th (Lt. Col. John E Smith), battalions would do a night maneuver beginning from the top of the hill in Berlé down through Trentelhof and up the incline from Pommerloch to the objective.
Prior to the move, the 90th Division had been south of Luxembourg in the Saar/Moselle area prepping for an attack across the rivers and into the German border to smash the West Wall (Siegfried Line). They received standby orders on the 5th of January for a swing movement north to assist the 26th Yankee Division and reinforce the line between them and the 35th Division holding the southern bulge near Surré, Harlange, and lutremange to the Belgian border. They would be a wedge between the two divisions, 35th and 26th that would squeeze itself westward and north keeping the 26th on the right and 6th Armored on the left, that was pushing northward from the South corridor near Assenois to Marvie, Wardin, and Bras. Word was given for an RCT (Regimental Combat Team) to move out on January 6th in advance of the Division, which would follow on the 7th. Meantime Major General James Alward Van Fleet was to meet for a brief at 3rd Army HQ with General Patton in Luxembourg city. General Van Fleet had just been promoted in October and given the 90th Division that month on the 15th. By noon on the 6th, Gen. Van Fleet had his marching orders and had the CT (Combat Team) and 357th to regroup in Sauel Luxembourg. There, they would be joined by the 712 Tank battalion, 773 TD (Tank Destroyers), and the 345th Field Artillery Battalion (FAB). The 90th was to join in the attack on the 9th of January. They proceeded north to their destination through BIGONVILLE – RAMBROUCH – HUSTERT – NOERDANGE.
This mission as it unfolded and told through the 90th Division after action report.
10 January 1945
359th Infantry, (Col. Raymond E. Bell):
3rd Battalion had attacked TRENTELHOF at 0720A but made little headway against this enemy strongpoint, which included 4 enemy tanks and 2 SP guns. Artillery and high-velocity fire increased as the Germans tried to stall the advance. One TD was knocked out after it fired 12 rounds into TRENTELHOF. At 0900 1st Battalion swung past the right of the 3rd Battalion to maneuver around it and cut off TRENTELHOF. From the high ground northeast of the WILTZ River, the Germans with good observation directed mortar and artillery fire, disrupting the Battalion and blunting its attack. Closer in, enemy infantry, dug-in in the woods, controlled the open ground with MG's and small arms.
Photo rendering of An Der Gaass st. Trentelhof from Berle.
An accompanying platoon of light tanks attempted to advance on the right flank of the 1st Battalion through dense woods, as the enemy was sensitive to all movement over open ground. Four of the tanks threw their tracks. Two were recovered under fire, but two had to be abandoned because of intense artillery and rocket barrages.
2nd Battalion cleared out a pocket of Germans behind the 3rd Battalion, capturing 40, including the Battalion Commander of the II Battalion, 36 Regiment, 9th Volksgrenadier Division. Although well-equipped and dug in, this enemy Battalion had suffered heavily with almost all officers killed or captured.
359's 2nd Battalion than cut between the stalled the Battalions at 1600 but was itself halted abreast of the 3rd Battalion.
In view of the deadlock a night attack was ordered and planned for 0100A.
2nd and 3rd Battalions head up the Pommerloch road, N-15 towards Bastogne on thier objective.
11 January 1945
The temperature dropped to 5 degrees above zero, but the surprise attack of the 3rd and 2nd Battalions was delivered on schedule and overran three enemy defensive positions and five 75 mm guns. The impetus of the assault carried the Battalions through sleep-confused Germans to within 500 yards of their objective (the main crossroads just east of BOHOEY) before enemy tanks, halftracks and SP guns could be brought to stem the advance. Artillery was promptly called for and Company K seized the crossroads and captured 75 PWs.
Fresh wreckage of German war material littered the roadsides amongst the troops of 2nd Battalion.
At daylight, the 3rd and 2nd Battalions consolidated their positions with 2nd Battalion refusing the right flank. Both Battalions then busied themselves with German vehicles lining the roads. Division and Corps artillery swung their fires, including concentrations of Pozit, on these columns with devastating results.
TDs of Company C, 773rd TD Battalion, moving up, surprised a company of enemy infantry and killed an estimated 100. In addition, they destroyed 1 Mark III, 2 Mark IV, 3 Mark V, 1 armored car, 1 half-track, 7 SP guns and 1 motorcycle.
2nd Battalion stops atop of the crest of N-15 to round up prisoners and take over fox holes on both sides of the road.
In the afternoon Companies, I and L seized Hill 510 to the Northeast driving off enemy resistance. Company K remained at the crossroad tied in with 357 on the left. 1st Battalion assembled vicinity TRENTELHOF. 380 PWs were taken in the night attack and subsequent blocking action during the day.
A summary of the actions taken from the After Action Report reads:
Without doubt the Division's hard-hitting, three-day drive from its unexpected inception had severely mauled the enemy defenses and hamstrung his efforts at withdrawal. The next several days would see complete collapse of the enemy salient.
The following units were considered totally wiped out: I and II Battalions, 36th Regiment. The Fusilier Battalion of the Fuehrer Grenadier Brigade. The Grenadier Battalion of the FGB. The Begleits (Escort) Company of the FGB. The 929th Bicycle Battalion attached to the FGB. The 13th Regiment of the 5th Parachute Division. The 5th Mortar Battalion of the 5th Parachute Division. It was believed that most of the units of the 5th Parachute Division could no longer operate as such, even if not completely destroyed.
General Patton's 3rd Army After Action Report also recognized the accomplishment in a comment for 10 Jan:
All elements of the III Corps, particularly the 90th Infantry Division,
made fair progress. A column of German guns and armor, attempting
to withdraw in front of the 90th Infantry Division was brought under
artillery fire and also attacked by fighter-bombers from the XIX Tactical Air Command with good results.
After securing the hill and crossroads, the 90th pressed on toward Bras, then swung north, and down along the road towards the Schlief making their way to Niederwampach and Oberwampach where they would encounter a fierce stand-off against the 2nd Panzer Division. There the 712 TD and 773 Tank Batallion along with field artillery battalions would dance with the devil.