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Forging the Vosges

As we came up to the Meurthe River we were approaching an enemy firmly entrenched on its eastern banks in a complex network of trenches, barbed wire entanglements and innumerable mine fields. Here was the enemy's proposed winter line. In these positions the Germans hoped to remain, content to let us occupy the burnt out remains of Anould, Gerbepal and other pillaged hamlets. But we had other intentions. We didn't care for charcoaled remains. Houses were comforting places in this cold, mountainous country, even if they couldn't be visited much of the time. plate11.gif (13674 bytes)
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Early in the morning of the 21st of November, A and B Companies crossed in the vicinity of Clefcy. It was rough going across this treacherous stream. Although little more than a good broadjump across, the stream was deep and the current swift. Two men were drowned. "That's one stream I'll never forget," recalled a Baker Company rifleman, "you could almost reach across it, but once you set your foot in it you were taking your life in your hands." Clefcy was entered and found unoccupied. Then the 3rd Battalion, with K and L Companies, crossed the tricky stream somewhat south of Clefcy, dug in and then advanced east. Meanwhile the 1st Battalion moved towards the high ground northeast of the town. The terraced, open approaches to the high ground were covered with barbed wire entanglements. On reaching the top of the ridge the 1st Battalion ran right into German positions concealed on the wooded summit. Immediately machine guns, automatic weapons and rifle grenades opened up. Some of the men jumped into vacant enemy trenches, but the majority were unable to find cover. Under the hail of enemy fire the battalion was forced to withdraw.

This network of barbed wire entanglements, mines and trenches along the Meurthe River was proving a formidable barrier. Fortunately the enemy was unable to man its defenses at every point. Leaving the Clefcy sector to a reconnaissance outfit, we suddenly shifted our forces to the north as the 1st and 2nd Battalions crossed the river next to Anould and moved eastward along the high wooded ground north of Fraize. The two battalions advanced steadily through the heavily mined woods, meeting little opposition. Thanksgiving turkey was enjoyed by C and F Companies in Fraize. It came a day late, but nonetheless it was cause for rejoicing; we had broken through the Meurthe River line defenses, and the cost had not been nearly as great as had been feared.

The enemy before us was retreating, but his retreat was in no sense a rout. Instead it was a planned, systematic withdrawal. Every natural advantage of terrain was being cleverly utilized to make our advance as costly as possible. Our course of action, in turn, involved extensive patrolling to seek out the enemy strong points, the establishment of road blocks to trap the enemy forces, and the mopping up of the cornered troops. Following this plan the 1st and 2nd Battalions pushed on beyond Fraize and established road blocks on the Fraize-Plainfaing and Fraize-Scarupt roads, blocking the Fraize Valley. Pressing on in pursuit of the enemy, the battalions headed for the important road network at Col du Bonhomme; the 2nd Battalion patrolling along the high ground in the vicinity of Scarupt and Barançon and the 1st Battalion, moving north of the 2nd Battalion, passing through Bon Repos and on to Les Vieux Gazons. C Company, in the lead, pressed on to cut the road running from Col du Bonhomme to Les Baganelles. At the same time A and B Companies received heavy machine gun, rifle and mortar fire from Hill 1128 in the vicinity of Les Vieux Gazons. Two TD's and one tank were lost in this action by enemy anti-tank rockets. Gradually the situation cleared up as the 3rd Battalion relieved the 1st Battalion and the latter moved to La Croix Aux Mines for a short rest. The month ended with us holding and attacking along an eighteen and one-half mile front. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions were probing through the dense forests on the high ground west and northwest of Le Bonhomme and blocking the road network at Col du Bonhomme. Contact was maintained with the French on our right flank, who were in the vicinity of Gérardmer.

On the 3rd of December we began the final drive through the Vosges Mountains to the Alsace Plain. Shifting all of its forces east, the 1st Battalion attacked from the high ground southeast of St. Marie, intending to move along the forested snow covered high ground paralleling the Aubure-Freland road. The high mountain terrain, however, made it impossible to bring up supplies and the 1st Battalion was forced to go into reserve. The 2nd Battalion then moved by motor to a position two miles north of Aubure and attacked south, seizing Hill 924 (Mt. Le Kalblin). The 3rd Battalion, coordinating its attack with the 2nd Battalion, moved southeast from the high ground north of Faurupt along the high ground paralleling the Le Bonhomme-La Poutroie road. In our advance along the snow covered roads, through dense forests of white coated pine trees, we climbed the highest peaks of the Vosges. From the summits of these mountains our view was almost limitless. Germany, our far off goal, could be seen in the form of the high peaks of the Forêt Noir silhouetted in the distant skyline. It was a great feeling of achievement to realize that the highest ground in the Vosges Mountains had finally been scaled and that for once there was no series of higher Vosges mountains ahead.

The coordinated attack met only moderate opposition, but heavy mine fields concealed beneath the snow covered ground made the going difficult. On the 5th of December, Company F had cleared Freland and had made contact with the 3rd. Battalion in the town. Memories of Italy were recaptured as 1500 Goums of the French First Army with 400 mules came into Freland to relieve the 2nd Battalion. Meanwhile E and G Companies had advanced southeast along the high ground, paralleling the Freland-Kaysersberg road towards Kaysersberg. It looked very much as though this route would be our approach to the Alsace Plain.

John E. Pretsch Drawing - 1945 "Voolay Voo Cushay Avec Mwa?"


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