VOSGES MOUNTAINS BREAKTHROUGH
Just east of the crest of the Vosges Mountain range was the heavily defended town of St. Marie Aux Mines. The 36th Division, exhausted by no relief in ninety-eight exhausting days in combat since invading Southern France, was given a temporary defensive assignment to protect the Corps and Army right flank, as the northern XV Corps tried to pierce the Severne Gap pass to Strasbourg while the 1st French Army on the south attacked through Belfort Pass both the traditional invasion pathways into France. Nevertheless, the 36th Division attacked and forced the Muerthe River enemy defenses. By 26 November, the 36th had captured Fraise and pushed well beyond it, knowing that the key to the Vosges was St. Marie Aux Mines.
The 443rd continued its strong support of the 36th Division advance, playing a more important part than ever in the struggle with the enemy. On request of the 143rd Regimental commander, Lt. Col. Larson ordered a 443rd gun-track to "hose down" a low, wooded area full of Germans so his infantry could mop up those remaining. This was done successfully. Platoon C-2 fired support for the 141st Regiment on 22-23 November. In response to an urgent request from 36th Division G-3, Platoon C-1 was assigned and moved at once to protect the mountain road from St. Croix to Wissembach, just cleared by the 142nd. Approaching St. Marie, the 142nd sent one company toward the pass while the rest of the battalion made a tough, four hour climb over extremely rugged terrain to attack St. Marie from the north. Caught completely unawares and unprepared, German defenders attempts to resist soon fizzled out and by evening of 25 November St. Marie was secured with over 170 prisoners and large stores of supplies captured. The speed of the attack had caught some amazed German soldiers riding leisurely around town. By midnight, U.S. traffic was moving into St. Marie. In what was the most hazardous and intelligent maneuver of WW II, one battalion had captured a supposedly impregnable mountain fortress and opened up the Alsatian Plain to Allied troops. St. Marie had been captured for the first time in history! The 443rd immediately disposed gun-tracks to protect the St. Marie Gap as far east as Liepvre.
By morning of 28th November, the 142nd had forced its way through the thickly wooded mountains and captured Chateau Koenigsburg, an old fortress overlooking the Alsatian Plain, the Rhine Valley and the Black Forest of Germany. Platoon C-2 had provided PA fire on the enemy in support of this action by the 142nd.. By now the Germans were desperate in their attempts to stop the 36th Division which was operating on an 80 km front. They were apparently trying to get to the German side of the Rhine River with all their weapons, equipment and supplies and to do so were mounting weak delaying actions. As the 36th continued its attacks, it captured Chatenois and Thannenkirch by 1 December, and prepared to attack Ribeauville, since the enemy had been driven from key defensive areas after Battery Ds gun-tracks had fired heavily on them. Although, at this time, tank and tank destroyer units had been relieved from supporting the 141st Regiment, the latters commander was unwilling to release its MA (SP) unit and it remained with the infantry.
On 9 December, 36th Division troops received a commendation from the VI Corps Commander for "clearing the Vosges, capturing St. Marie Pass and continuing attacks culminating in the denoument into the Alsatian Plain near Ribeauville without feather or fuss".
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