|Operation Cobra starting on July 25, 1944 broke the
German line in
and opened up their rear areas to Allied attack. Patton's 3rd US
Army was tasked with exploiting the the breakthrough, which they did
with reckless abandon. Sending part of the army west to capture
the Atlantic ports, the rest of the 3rd Army headed east.
Despite the failure to encircle Germans, the bulk
of the German army was destroyed, and
Paris was liberated. The Allied armies then moved triumphantly
east through France with the Third Army in the lead. Progress was
quick, but it couldn't last, and on August 31st the 3rd Army was
halted. There simply weren't enough
to bring supplies to the front. Although invasion planners
had requested 240 transportation companies, SHAEF wanted to cut the number to
100. Operation Chastity, a plan for a new port at the Morbihan in
Brittany with Mulberry equipment, was abandoned as forward progress led
the Allied high command to expect new ports to become available
closer to the front. Antwerp was prominent among the hoped for
future supply ports, but although the city itself was liberated on
September 4th, the waterways leading to the port were not, and the port
was only opened up in November. Meanwhile, Montgomery was
successfully lobbying Eisenhower to give him priority on supplies, and
he would soon plan an airborne drop, Operation Market-Garden, to
capture a bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem. So while Patton and
many others saw opportunity and believed
that the war was nearly over, supplies dried up, and the Third Army
halted short of the Moselle River.
The German army was retreating toward Germany as quickly as possible, including units from southern France pursued by the US 7th Army which had landed on France's Mediterranean coast. Although the Germans from the south of France were not cut off, the situation for Germany was bleak. They had recently lost 900,000 men against the Soviets, 300,000 in Normandy, and 200,000 men were being surrounded by the Allies in port cities. Seven hundred thousand did remain on the Western Front. The Germans were also sending new units forward, including a division from Italy to Lorraine. The bulk of these new units were headed to the Moselle to face Patton, so from September 1st to September 5th, the German force in Lorraine went from three and a half to eight divisions.
With expedients like the Red Ball Express the supply situation improved somewhat, and Patton still believed that he could regain his previous momentum. It would not be easy. Once composed of three corps, the detachment of a corps to Brittany which became the 9th Army had weakened Patton's eastward drive down to two corps, each with three divisions. Since the 3rd Army was ahead of the other Allied armies, one division from each of Patton's corps was assigned to flank protection. This left just four divisions to continue the advance over the Moselle - this over a front of 75 miles. The Germans had eight divisions, well below strength, but they were able to achieve manpower parity along the Moselle. The Allies were greatly superior in equipment and despite supply problems, mobility too. Patton ignored intelligence showing that the Germans were consolidating and strengthening along the Moselle, and he thought little of the river in front of him and was instead focused on breaching the West Wall and crossing the Rhine.
|Patton had two corps under his command. In the north
Walton Walker's XX Corps was facing Metz. To the south Manton
Eddy's XII Corps faced Nancy. In at least one narrative of the
campaign, Patton is described as planning to take Nancy from the rear,
which is amusing enough, especially in light of the
planned penetration from Pont-a-Mousson after the 317th Infantry
established a bridgehead there. Crossings were also planned
upstream at Dieulouard by the 318th Infantry and at Toul by the 319th
|The 5th Infantry Division was advancing through the old 1870
battlefields of Mars-la-Tour and Gravelotte-St. Privat toward Metz,
fighting as they went. In fact monuments from the 1870 still show
The XX Corps commander Walton Walker had only vague ideas about the fortifications of Metz. The French had passed along information on the forts, but it was never passed down to the lower levels of command. The men attacking Metz on September 6th and 7th had little idea what was in front of them.
|On September 10th men of the 5th Infantry Division of Walker's XX Corps
crossed a canal then the Moselle here at Arnaville about three miles
south of the failed crossing at Dornot. Fighting continued on the
heights beyond, visible on the right of the panorama, but the Americans
were unable to push out from the bridgehead. So although a bridgehead
that threatened the encirclement of Metz from the south now existed,
there was no breakout. Patton needed a new plan.
|On September 11, 1944 a canal crossing was effected south of
Nancy at Bayon. Judging from maps, the panorama above was taken
within a few hundred yards of the 1944 crossing location. Because
of a lack of rain, the Americans were able to ford the canal and save
bridging equipment. Eventually, however, with the multiple
crossings involved, they ran out of bridging material.
|North of Nancy at Dieulouard, on September 12th, the other of Eddy's assaults was being made - over the canal and the river. Artillery and air bombardments were designed to deceive the Germans as to the location of the crossing, and in this they succeeded. Covered by fifty machine guns, infantry crossed the Moselle in assault boats. Soon the engineers were building a pontoon bridge.|
|German doctrine dictated a counterattack, and that was exactly what
they did. Aided by darkness, at around 1am on September 13th a German
panzer grenadier battalion began the counterattack. Approaching from
the north, a portion of the counterattack force climbed Ste-Genevieve
Hill along the axis of the road shown here. Another section advanced
parallel to the river. Supported by ten assault guns, the Germans made
good progress against the Americans who were unprepared for enemy
armored fighting vehicles. The Germans very nearly reached the bridges
and were stopped because Combat Command A of the 4th Armored Division
(CCA/4th AD) arrived and restored the situation. By sun-up the Germans
had withdrawn. Realizing the importance of the situation however, the
Germans assembled more troops for another try. Late on September 13th
three battalions were brought north from Nancy along with two from Metz
and some remnants of the 106th Panzer Brigade. To this were added a
regiment from the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division in reserve.
Having repulsed the German counterattack, CCA moved inland causing great havoc in the German rear areas. Moving over ten miles into the German rear, CCA reached the outskirts of Chateau Salins by the end of September 13th. On September 14th CCA moved south to the area of Arracourt. Near Luneville they linked up with CCB from the southern of Eddy's two attacks. The German 553rd Volksgrenadier Division in Nancy was now in danger and began a withdrawal.
|The hilltop has remains of a medieval castle. Casualties from the fighting here included General Edmund Searby, an artillery officer. Late on September 14th the Germans were reinforced and planned a major counterattack for the next day. The American position on Mousson Hill was included in the attack. With German capture of Ste-Genevieve and the village of Atton north of Loisy, Mousson Hill was isolated, but the position held.|
|The panorama above was taken between Bezaumont and Landremont
near the American line. The September 15th German counterattack
reached Landremont on Ste Genevieve Hill but could advance no further.
Hoping to enlarge the bridgehead, the Americans had sent troops
forward to Mt Toulon the day before. They returned on the 15th -
into the rear of the Germans - and helped repulse the German attack.
Across the valley the Germans were attacking Falaise Hill from the Bois de la Rumont.
|The Germans evacuated the 553rd Volksgrenadier Division from
Nancy. The city and the American troops alike were saved from a
destructive street fight. Meanwhile CCB/4th Armored Division made
a tenuous link up with CCA.
Hitler had been planning a grand counterattack much like the later Ardennes offensive in December - hoping to attack the 3rd Army's flank and thrusting toward Reims, separating the 3rd Army from the 7th Army. Circumstances had sidetracked the plan, however. For the offensive tanks fresh off the assembly line had been used to form new panzer brigades - this instead of replacing losses in the old panzer divisions. One of these new untested and poorly trained panzer brigades had already been smashed north of Metz. Now the 112th Panzer Brigade was smashed attacking the 2nd Free French Armored Division. So now the German 5th Panzer Army had just 182 tanks available to attack the vulnerable CCA/4th Armored at Arracourt.
|The fort combines artillery batteries with infantry defenses.
Shown here is an example of an artillery battery. The right
side of the panorama, and the right side of the photo at right, are
both the rear of the structure, which is protected by metal fencing and
firing ports in caponiers.
Fort Driant was the focus of American attention. If it fell, the road to Metz would be open. The 5th Infantry Division was given the task. On September 27th a frontal attack was repulsed. Another attack from October 3rd through 5th entered the fort but was unable to capture it. A final attack from October 7th through 12th also entered the fort but was unable to capture it. The defenders were motivated officer candidates, and American artillery and air bombardment did little damage to the fort. The air bombardment even included heavy bombers.
Reminders of the bombardment can still be found in the fort.