Penetrating the Westwall

1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment (1st Infantry Division)

13 - 22 September 1944

Excerpted from "STOLBERG - Penetrating the Westwall"
from the Papers of General Paul F Gorman, USA (Ret)

General Collins, commanding VII Corps, decided to encircle Aachen and to occupy the high ground above Stolberg, an industrial town six miles east of Aachen. From thence the VII Corps, once refitted, could strike toward Cologne and the Rhine.

On the morning of 13 September 1944, 3d Armored Division detached 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry from Task Force Hogan, and put Major Adams and his troops directly under command of Brigadier General Doyle O. Hickey, commander of Combat Command A (CCA). The general directed Major Adams to assemble his battalion in the Eynattener Wald (now called Freyenter Wald) at the German border, and in the role of CCA reserve, to prepare for an attack.

During the pervious night (12-13 September), Hickey had assembled two armored task forces in the woods, each consisting of a battalion of tanks, one battalion of armored infantry, and assorted engineers and tank destroyers. Hickey's plan was pound the border defenses with air strikes, then punch through with tanks to strike north-northeast toward Büsbach and Münsterbusch. One initial objective was the town of Nütheim, on higher ground some 2000 meters beyond the dragon's teeth, a place that seemed to be the center of a nest of pillboxes and anti-tank guns.

The requested air strikes did not materialize, but CCA discovered a roadway of gravel-fill atop the dragon's teeth to the west of Eisenhütte, probably built by farmers seeking to work their fields on the other side of the obstacles. The roadway had recently been mined, but led by a flail-tank, CCA succeeded in getting 20 tanks across, and into the open ground to the east. Even when attacked at close range, the pillboxes proved difficult to silence; one tank destroyer pumped more than fifty rounds directly into a pillbox without neutralizing it. Enemy fire, direct and indirect — small arms and 88 mm. anti-tank guns, mortars and artillery — destroyed 12 tanks, and forced the remainder and accompanying armored infantry to pull back to the Eynatter Wald. By 1830 on 13 September more armored vehicles crossed on the gravel roadway to engage the pillboxes at close range, but again they made little progress; At that juncture, with darkness falling, Gen. Hickey committed his reserve, ordering the Blue Spaders to attack on foot to take Nütheim from the west, and to clear out the positions holding up his armor.

Constrained by the roadway over the dragon's teeth, the armor had been forced to attack the Nütheim defenses frontally. Major Adams, calculating that enemy bunkers would be well sited to defend that approach against infantry as well as armor, chose to attack to the north toward the settlement of Nersheid (Nersheider Hof), so as to keep a low ridge between his troops and Nütheim, planning to wheel eastward once he was behind the pillboxes and could approach Nütheim from its flank. He ordered an advance in a column of companies, Company A (Captain T.W. Anderson) leading, to be followed by Companies B and C. The battalion command group intended to move with Company B.

CCA had assigned one platoon of tanks to support the battalion, but since the tanks could cross the dragon's teeth only over the gravel-fill road, the tanks moved south to the roadway, with the intention of swinging back on the other side. The tankers were slowed by one mishap after another, and by 2000 only one of the tanks (fortunately the artillery forward observer's tank) had joined the battalion beyond the obstacle. Essentially, the battalion executed an unsupported night attack.

Company A, per General Hickey's order, crossed the line of departure (LD), the edge of the woods, in the twilight of 13 September. The dragon's teeth ran across in front of the battalion two or three hundred meters forward of the LD. As soon as the troops emerged from the forest they were met with heavy mortar and machine gun fire from their front and flanks. Three platoon leaders were hit almost immediately, and the formation was disrupted. The lead platoons broke into a run, heading for a burning barn very visible on the higher ground to the north near Nerscheid. Companies B and C followed, but as they crossed the dragon's teeth in the gathering darkness, they came under mortar fire. Company B overtook the trail platoon of Company A, but found that the platoon had lost contact with the rest of its company. Captain Edgar Simon, commanding Company B, integrated the platoon into his formation, expecting to catch up with Captain Anderson's force near the objective. When Company B reached the vicinity of the burning barn, it turned east-northeast per plan, and advanced toward Nütheim.

Captain Anderson and Company A (-), however, had continued northward beyond the burning barn until they encountered the hard surfaced road near Kroitzheide (adjoining Schleckheim), onto which they turned heading southeast toward what they thought was the edge of Nütheim. They found telephone wires alongside the road, which they cut. Soon a German soldier on a bicycle came down the road, searching for the break in the wire; he was taken prisoner. Within a minute or two a motorcyclist appeared, also apparently searching for the break; he too was taken prisoner. Anderson deduced that the wires must run to an artillery or mortar position in the town ahead, so he deployed one squad on either side of the road to work behind the buildings, and one to proceed down the main street itself. The Americans surprised German soldiers eating supper with no posted security. On the left side of the road, they captured an artillery piece and two mortars, and on the right, they captured two 88 mm guns. The prisoners said that they had expected an attack on Nütheim, but had anticipated ample warning of danger in their location. That statement, and a map check, convinced Captain Anderson that he had overshot his objective, so he decided to go back to the burning barn. Attempts to destroy the captured ordnance may have alerted surrounding Germans to the American presence in their midst, but in any event, Company A came under heavy small arms fire from all sides, and withdrew in a running gun fight, reaching the burning barn about 2100.

In the meantime, the rest of the battalion had quietly proceeded toward its objective, capturing a few Germans outside of bunkers, but bypassing all suspected strong points. To the south, tracers and explosions indicated that the tankers were doing their utmost to push through. Around 2100 Company A was heard on the radio, and Captain Levasseur led a patrol back to guide them to the battalion; they rejoined around 2200. About an hour later tanks advancing from the south under command of Lt. Col. Hogan reached the infantry. Hogan and Major Adams conferred, then decided to halt, defend present positions, and resume the attack at daybreak: supported by Hogan's tanks, 1/26 Infantry would then clear Nütheim so that CCA could continue its advance.

During that night of 13-14 September, 3d Armored engineers brought up welding torches and cut rails cemented in roadways to open new avenues for vehicles. Shortly after dawn on the 14th, trucks came through the obstacles with food and ammunition. Company B, 26th Infantry, supported by tanks, cleared Nütheim, then occupied strong points against counterattack. Predictably, one soon developed, but it was repulsed with heavy losses to the attackers, and 22 PW were taken. Company A patrolled south and eastward; in one place they captured PW who showed them their antitank position, a gun with just 12 rounds of ammunition and 3 anti-tank mines. They had no prime mover for the gun. Their instructions were to fire the ammunition, then to use the mines to destroy the gun.

Company C cleared pillboxes to the southwest of Nütheim. Most of the pillboxes were not mutually supporting, but those with embrasures permitting cross fire proved hard to attack with hand grenades or anti-tank rockets. Various combinations of fire and movement were tried. One successful method was to position riflemen to shoot into each and every opening to suppress shoulder-fired antitank weapons, and then to roll up a tank to shoot into an embrasure. Around noon on the 14th a 155-mm self-propelled (SP) gun with a new type concrete penetrating shell was fired at a range of 100 yards into a large bunker. The projectile only penetrated about 18 inches, but the concussion was such that guns within the structure were jarred from position. All 35 PW taken had blood running from eyes, ears, nose and mouth. At noon, the area was declared cleared, and the CCA continued its attack. l/26th Infantry was then detached from CCA, and reattached to TF Hogan as division reserve.


Top of Page