La Bataille de Lorraine

de septembre 1944 à mars 1945

Parroy's forest battle

Thanks to Michel Martin for the translation.

parroy08 minSeptember 16th 1944, long before the 15th corps of the US army entered Lunéville, the German army (5th Panzer) established many bases and depot deep into the Parroy’s forest. Using it to hide a concentrate gathering zone for infantry and armored vehicle units. The goal of those units was to pierce the south side of the 3rd US army of General Patton.

The forest was equally used by the german as a first base for the reconquest of Lunéville after the liberation of the city by the 2nd cavalry US.

The german general Von Luettwitz knew that he’ll need to sojourn into the forest. Not only to stop the progress of the American forces toward the Col de Saverne, but also to protect the left flank against the counter attack of the Panzer in the area of the North canal of Marne to the Rhyn.

Oval, the Parroy’s forest lengh is 10 km from West to East and 7 km from South to North at it largest. It surface is around 48 km². The main part of the forest is flat, but with a dense vegetation impenetrable in some cases. Some areas are planted with elder trees and occasionally some with tight coniferous row areas.

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A road from West to East cross the forest by the middle when another pointing from North to South cut it in two-third of the distance West-East.As almost European forests, Parroy is identify with a dense vegetation that which dramatically limits visibility and observation.

In addition, the forest is marked by anti-fire trenches, in the process of skidding and by old and tight railways from the Great War.

Most of thoses ways only allows the penetration and the circulation of armored vehicules in one unique direction. The other features includes damage trenches and defense positions from World War 1. On top of that the defenders should include the mines, the barbed wire grid, the road obstacle and the trenches, the shelters covered with wooden logs and the new trenches.

When you know that the poor weather of September carries cold, heavy rains, the fog, drizzle and mud so as some areas became a real swamp, which makes the Parroy’s forest a unwelcoming place for those who have to fight in a arduous battle.

With this battle condition, the main part of the 15th Division could have skirt the Parroy’s forest, leaving to their rearguard the mission to isolate and reduce the forces which were remaining. General Patton was aware of the lock position that this forest meant, based in the middle of the natural corridor used by the main road, the Paris-Strasbourg railway and the Marne- Rhin waterway… All thoses ways were leading to Sarrebourg and Saverne. Without restraint, the Germans controlled the main road, the railway and the waterway and kept thoses on sight. 

 

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General Wyche, with General Haislip approuval, planned a direct attack from West to East, follow by a wrapping through the forest on the East side.  With only a weak encounters in the Mondon’s forest, both generals were opping to find an equal situation here, using only the 106th Cavalry Battalion and one armored batallion from the 79th US infantry division, while an other force from the 2nd French armored division will come heading the North through the Vezouze, in order to isolate the woods on the East side of the forest.

The battle was planned to start the 25th of September 1944 after a air bombing prepared by the US airforce.

Even from the start, not many things came as they were planned. The bad weather let the planes on their landing ground. With regard to General Wyche, he was unable to start the operation before the 25th of September.

During that time, General Leclerc had sent his forces through the Vezouze, but German artillery had stopped them on this site, while the tanks were not able to get of the roads… General Leclerc called back his troups even before that the 79th Infantry division has the time to start the assault.

As the weather was still inapropriate, General Haislip relieved the Leclerc Division and let General Wyche in charge of the forest taking. Wyche reorganized his initial plan and decided to send two infantery bataillons in the forest while a cavalery group will go on the left flank and will follow in parallel between the forest and the waterway.

Leaving behind his idea to isolate the forest at the East side, Haislip and Wyche planned a less complicated operation. Regrouping his artillery, which was superior in firepower than the one of the enemy and adding to it his infantery ressources on a narrow area, it came that this solution might be the best according to the weather and the battleground.

The American operation began on the 28th of September in Parroy’s forest, one day before that the 15th army corps was under the control of the 6th army group. The airstrike began at 2pm follow by a direct assault from the 313rd and 315th infantry bataillons at 4:30pm the same day.

However, in stead of the 288 bombers and light bombers initially planned, only 37 planes were saw upon the forest, due to the unwelcoming weather. The result of this airstrike, operate by 37 planes on an area of 48 km² were insignificant, especially as the gap between the bombing and the ground attack was nearly 2 hours, leaving the time to the Germans to recover.

The 79th infantry division found immediately severely strike in a hardly and violent fight when it arrived to the undergrowth.

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The German general Balck evaluate the situation in this area as follow: on the North side of the waterway, the German attack ran out of breath with heavy casualties in men an tanks.

Without any back up, General Black informed the 5th Panzer army to prepare their defense on the whole frontline. In order to protect Saverne pass, he knew that he had to old the Parroy’s forest and the area of Rambervillers.

 However, judging this last sector weaker, he informed Wiesse and Manteuffel to give the priority to Rambervillers or the 2nd French Armored division and the 45th US infantry division threaten to push the frontline between the two German armies.

 

General Krueger was in charge of Parroy’s forest defense while the Panzer Corps was focused on Ramberviller and Baccarat sectors.

Together, Balck and Manteuffel reorganized the 5th Panzer army to simplified his command chain and have a better control on the problems due to the previous lost. That’s why the 111th Panzer Brigade was regroup with the 11th Panzer Division.

The 21st Panzer Division absorb the 112th Panzer Brigade, minor one battalion gave to the 16th infantry division. For the 113th Panzer Brigade in spare, it was team up with the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. It only left one Panzer brigade in back up: the 106th Panzer Brigade which was not yet arrived in this sector.

The 21st Panzer Division absorb the 112th Panzer Brigade, minor one battalion gave to the 16th infantry division. For the 113th Panzer Brigade in spare, it was team up with the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. It only left one Panzer brigade in back up: the 106th Panzer Brigade which was not yet arrived in this sector.

Balck round up the commanders of the 3 armies and told them to not surrender or concede any field what ever it cost. Each progression of the US army should be retaliate in order to recover the field lost.

Balck informed them that each retreat should be operate only after an official request to him, and those will be authorized only if it allows the constitution of a better defense line.

 Hitler order was followed. Maintaining the German troups on the West side of Westellung in order to put in place the appropriates defenses and garrisons. The defense of Parroy’s forest was a first test of execution of General Black orders.

 

The forest and the fights

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During this preparation, the 79th US Infantry Division and the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division were still fighting in the West side of Parroy’s forest.

The 79th US Infantry Division has attacked two battalions close to each other: the 315th Infantery battalion on the North side of the road of Haut de Faîte and the 313rd Infantery Battalion on the South side of the same road.

Those two battalions didn’t progress too much as the German defenses and the forest density were hinder progression. The 30st of september, in the evening, the two battalions had only pushed in the forest from 1600 meters.

During that time, the fights were heading to a scenario that will be the one of the whole battle.

 Forgetting the idea of a linear front, the Germans where maintaining scattered and fortified defensing points. During the day, the German artillery scouts, hide in prepared positions, could planned artillery support fire and motar barrage on specific points when the US forces where arriving.

 

Thoses actions where completed by light weaponry shoots while the vehicules were carring the infantry troups behind the US forces, using trenches and skidding routes.

During the night, German patrols tried to infiltrate the flank or the rear of the 79th US ID, using their knowledge of the field.

Thoses actions desorganise and cut the supply chain in the US vanguard. That’s why, each time that a unit has to fall back, due to the previous reason, the other units have to stop their progression in order to not exposed their flank to another German attack.

The bad view in the forest didn’t allow to the US command to have a global overview of the progress ongoing and the frequent German counterattack forced the attackers to go on a defensive attitude most of the time.

Again and again, the American units has to go fall back to their starting base to regroup, equip and resupply before, at their turn, fight back to reconquer the lost positions.

From the 1st october, both sides had to call for reinforcement  during the battle. The Panzer Corps deployed 2 companies from the 113th Panzer Grenadier Battalion, from the 113th Panzer Brigade with armored tanks and mounted artillery guns.

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On the American side, Wyche sent his 3rd Battalion, the 314th IB, in the fight.

The commander wanted that the 314th IB enter in the forest by the South side to flank on the left and maintain the pressure on the enemy who was facing the 313th IB.

Even if this maneuver was planned and operate with care, it didn’t seems to shake the German defenses. The progression of the 79th IB was still slow and painful and they had to way until the 3rd of October in order that the 313th IB was completely relieved.

The same day, the Germans reinforced their positions with the 2nd Company of the 104th Panzer Grenadier and some additional tanks.

However Wyche, with Haislip agreement, decided to reduce the frontline of the 315th IB involving even more the pressure on the 106th Cavalry group on the North side, allowing to the 315th IB to be focus on the North of the road of Haut de Faîte.

 

Between the 4th and 6th October 1944, the American units attacked heading for East, crushing several defensive German positions near the crossline of the roads of Haut de Faîte. The 11th Panzer Scout Battalion was pushing back the US vanguard from the crossroad, while the other US units kept their positions.

Exhausted by the fights, both sides used the 7th and the 8th October to  regroup, resupply and reinforce. The Americans, on their side, had planned strike back from the 9th octobre, in the morning.

 

This new attack began with a diversion early in the morning operate by the 313th IB, supported by the tanks in the south of the forest. The ruse seemed to work, the Germans shoot artillery fire on the new attackers all along the Vezouze. The artillery shoots during all the morning.

During that time, in the forest, the German units didn’t get any support for their fight against the 315th IB. It’s at that precise moment that the 79th ID and the 15th Corps artillery’s show up and crushed the German first lines.  

It was the most important Artillery preparation fire from the whole battle, opening the gate to the main attack that should began at 6:50 am.

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The two companies of the 315th IB pushed on the north of the road of Haut de Faîtes while the 3rd company of the 315th IB and the 2nd company of the 214th IB attacked the road node protecting the crossroad of the Croix de Bastien. The position felt at 6pm during that the two companies of the 313th IB where heading to the South aside of the 2nd company of the 314th IB.

Together, they pushed the defenders and came on the south road while the 314th IB was patrolling aggressively on the south tier of the forest.

At the end of the fights, the gravity center of the 79th ID has only pushed from 1500m to East of the crossroad. But the captains should have noticed that the German resistance was falling.

During the night of the 9th October 1944, General Krueger noticed the risks on Manteuffel and indicated his inability to restore, by lack of supply, a situation that became unsustainable. The lost of the inner roads in addition of the main crossroad and his points of support makes the defense effort costly and risky even if the US were frightening the fallback roads of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division.

The only remaining units were 2 company with a combination of 550 men from the 115th Panzer Grenadier Battalion and 2 stronghold company, the 1416th and 51st. Using thoses units might have beggar the defenders of their last supply for their operation on the East of the forest.

 

The commander of the Panzer Corps asked the permission to evacuate Parroy’s forest while it was still the time and set up new defense lines at some kilometers away at the East side of the forest.

The operation was set under the protection of the 21st Panzer Division including the HQ which was at Domjevin. The German loss was 1175 men including 125 killed, 350 wounded and 700 missed in action who were for most of them taken prisoner.

 

The road of Saverne’s pass was now open for the 7th US army.