The Allied front line facing Germany was over 400 miles long. In some places it was very quiet with relatively thin concentrations of troops spread out across a wide front where no threat was deemed imminent – such as in the Ardennes. Elsewhere there was intense and bitter fighting.
On the borders of Germany the Patton’s 3rd Army had run up against the Siegfried Line. Hitler had ordered the building of a string of defences on his western border back in 1938 – when he feared a two front war following his invasion to the east. Now he truly had the two front war that he had manoeuvred for so long to avoid.
The US 377th Infantry Division had arrived in France in September and were veterans of the struggle for fortified Metz, now they faced house to house fighting where the Siegfried line passed through the town of Saarlautern. It was urban street fighting with the added difficulty of prepared strong points and pill boxes. This detailed account comes from the 377th Regimental History, available online.
The following account of G Company’s fighting from December 6-10 is told not because it was the most exceptional action, but rather because it’s a typical example of fighting in fortified towns of the Siegfried Line. In mentioning the names of officers and men in this account we are recording not merely their exploits, but those of all hard-driving, pillbox-wise 377th Infantrymen.
Our eventual objective is the high ground on the other side of the river, about eight miles from here,” a lieutenant was telling his platoon. “We’ve got to take the pillboxes on the hill that commands this valley. There’s no special time limit, but it should take about a week to get there. First we’ve gut to go through Fraulautern, and we’re going over there tonight. So be ready to move out.”
The men mulled over that one. “A week to go eight miles.
It was the night of December 6, 1944. Shortly after midnight came the word to move.
After crossing into town under shellfire the real fight began after daybreak on the 7th:
These men first dashed across Gorch-Fock Strasse to House B and from here, at 8:30, Sgt. Brauch and his men jumped to C, first of the uncleared houses. As they ran across the street, a German machine gun opened up on them from down Schiller Strasse. No one was struck and the men reached House C.
This house had a hole blown in it at the ground level, leaving an opening from the basement and above the floor where a man could squeeze through. Germans fired from the cellar part of the hole as the men headed toward them to jump through the hole onto the first floor.
Last man in the team, Pfc. Donald M. Smeltzer, was struck and fell at the hole entrance. Inside, las the men went to different rooms of the house, Pfc. Willard C. Cameron went to the head of the cellar stairs, saw Germans at the foot in the basement, promptly tossed a grenade ·down among them.
Hearing the grenade go off, Lt. Hardy, Lt. Mark V. Goodyear and Sgt. James Bowen’s third squad ran over to House C to help. Convinced that it was best to give up, six Heinies filed out of the cellar. Four others had escaped to House D while Sgt. Brauch and his men were making the initial jump, and had been fired on by others of the second platoon who had been waiting in B to follow up the assault.
Houses B and C were in the direct field of fire of Pillbox No. 1, but were receiving no fire from it; apparently it was unmanned. All this time, Pfc. Smeltzer lay wounded near the hole in the wall; everyone running into the building had to clear him. This action had all taken place within a few minutes, and as soon as their chance came, litter bearers got Pfc. Smeltzer back to B. He was dead.
Sgt. Brauch’s original assault team remained in House C as security, and the rest of the platoon filed through them; then the men took off separately like big birds to House D, which likewise had a conveneient shell-hole entrance in its well. D was a duplex, and this half of the building was found clear of Germans.
Lt. Hardy found a large pickaxe in the house, dug a hole through the solid wall separating the apartments, and the men passed through. No resistance was encountered in the other half of the house, and the men got set to dash on to House E.
As second platoon was making this advance, third platoon was clearing houses on the opposite side of the street but having an easy time of it, as all the buildings were unoccupied. Third reached a point cater-cornered from Bunker No. 1, and H Company machine gun section set up to cover the action across the street and the bu·nker area. About 9:00 A.M., three Wehrmacht “soldaten” were standing on the street side of the bunker, smoking and batting the breeze, apparently unaware of GIs being so close. H men opened up and cut them down.
The Heinies in Pillbox No. 2, however, were on the job. Since the box was situated so as to fire into the backsides of all the buildings up to it, they fired continually. With the platoon set to jump again, Sgt. Brauch and his men came up to Building E to provide security.
One of the men was hit by rifle fire from the pillbox. The second and third squads then went into House E, which was gutted, found no trouble there, but were held up as they sought to reach Building F. Building E had a large barn to its rear. Between E and F, was a driveway, and a solid brick wall extended through the backyard of F, so that the barn and this wall cut off the open space of the driveway from the view of the pillbox. House F, however, presented a solid stone wall, with but a single upper story window.
The Jerries tossed out concussion grenades as the Gis appeared in the driveway. Lt Hardy and Pfc. Ernest L. Goolsby tried to dig a hole through this wall with the pick. Two grenades tossed at them failed to go off. A third was tossed, did go off, but caused no damaage out in the open, except for Goolsby’s face when he smacked the solid wall as he suddenly struck out for cover. Lt. Hardy called back for a charge to blow a hole in the building. By this time it was late afternoon, and engineers with a beehive charge did not arrive until after dark. The charge was set, and the hole blown, setting the house on fire.
The fire burned all through the night. “The whole thing was like the Fourth of July,” recalled S /Sgt. Archie R. Adams. “There was a hell of a lot of small arms going off all night as the fire burned stocks of ammunition.” The fire was mostly inside, so very little light escaped.
During the night of the 7th/8th most of the men tried to get what rest they could.
The men on guard heard tanks moving around about two blocks to their left front. An 88 whistled in and exploded several yards away from their doorway. Two more came in, in rapid succession, and landed even closer. It was only 15 minutes before the next guards would relieve them, so one of the four guards gladly headed for the cellar stairway to get them.
From away off down the town came a faint wail which grew louder and sounded as though it was coming straight at the house. Just as it seemed it would land, the loud siren sound whirred slowly overhead. It was a “screaming meemie” the men thought. They were sure of it when they heard six bursts one right after the other.
The new guards appeared and took up the watch silently. They were told in guarded whispers about the tanks and that the ration detail was still out. Outside intermittent rain began to fall, and the dampness gave the hallway a wet-down smell instead of plaster dust.
Downstairs, the old guards told of the sound of tanks and the platoon leader phoned the information to the Company CP. The flicker of the candle near the field phone looked good to the men just off guard; the heat from the stove which the squad had rigged up felt even better. One man added another brickette of coal, and a couple of cans of K-ration corned pork loaf were put on to heat. The cellar had junk pushed aside to the walls so the men could lie down. The men lay with all clothing and shoes ·on, two or three huddled under a blanket or separately in sleeping bags, on all kinds, sizes, shapes and colors of mattresses dragged from one-time bedrooms. Nobody noticed the dirt, plaster and coal dust or the paraffin smoke from burning K wrappers or the stale tobacco smell.