(13 Sep - 1 Oct 1944 )
By Oberst a.D. Hasso Neitzel
UNITED STATES ARMY, EUROPE
Most of the 89th Infantry Division had been shattered during the invasion operations in Normandy. In the retreat through France and Belgium it was further weakened by having units detached from it. Since the time when it had been committed southeast of Liege, Belgium the only reinforcements received were security troops. Leave personnel battalions and a battalion composed of Russians and other personnel from eastern countries.
As far as weapons, the division had been left with only some small arms, a few light and medium infantry guns, mostly those belonging to the Russian battalion. The artillery regiment had abandoned the greater part of its guns at the Seine River crossing.
The above information is important for judging ensuing events.
As a consequence of the continuous fighting and withdrawals it had been impossible to reorganize the division before it entered into the West Wall positions. Future combat action proved, again and again, the vital importance of reorganisation. The difference in age groups and weapons, effected adversely the combat efficiency. However, as formerly, the so-called cadres of the division were outstanding in their battle conduct and fighting efficiency.
At first it had been planned to organize a complete infantry regiment composed of three battalions; there were enough officers and cadres. With such a regiment division headquarters would again be able to commit the forces necessary at the points of main effort. As for the other infantry units of the division the old and ill-reputed system of substitution, would have to be continued.
The artillery situation was particularly difficult.
As mentioned before, because of detachments and losses, the division had no guns at its disposal. All artillery tasks had been taken over by the few infantry guns and other medium infantry weapons that still existed. As regards personnel, the artillery regiment still had enough crews and trained survey and observation personnel to form something like a combined battalion. These men had so far been organized into what was termed artillery companies, to the disappointment of the command, especially that of the artillery commander, and of necessity they had been constantly employed as infantry units. Through these operations naturally losses had occurred which were to be felt later when the artillery regiment was reactivated .
In appreciation of these facts the artillery companies were pulled out of combat as soon as the situation could justify such a move and were spared for later use. It was hoped that when we reached the West Wall we would find guns and artillery equipment waiting for us. A rumor to that effect had been circulating for a long time.
As to antitank defence, we had only two or three 7.5 cm antitank guns but no antitank battalion as such. Its personnel had been reassigned long ago as infantry. Deafens against armored vehicles was, therefore, in the main, limited to antitank close-combat weapons. Those used by the infantry, most of all the ofenrohr (bazooka), panzer-faust, and magnetic antitank hollow charges.
The engineer battalion had also long ago been split up. Its commander, who was a particularly able officer, had been in command of infantry units since the division had been committed at Liege. For the time being, our aim was to form, as quickly as possible, at least one engineer company out of what was left of the engineer battalion, in order to have at least, one unit of engineers, though small, for the tasks anticipated in the West Wall.
There was practically no supply troops. An unknown headquarters had ordered the greater part of our men northward during the retreat through Belgium. We had lost our supply units somewhere in Holland. In spite of our motorized detachments search for them we entered the West Wall without finding them.
Experience in the Russian campaign had taught us that retreating troops and organisations leave behind all sort of supplies that can be gathered and used. With this in mind we sent out commando detachments to search for supplies that we could utilize. With the few trucks available we established a shuttle service to round up ammunition, fuel, and rations and deposit them where the bulk of our withdrawing troops would be likely to find them.
We ran into difficulties when it came to care of the wounded. We had no medical company or ambulance platoons.
We could only evacuate our minor casualties in improvised vehicles. Serious casualties, unfortunately, had to be left behind at the mercy of the civilian population and the enemy.
To get a clear idea of the division's combat value it is necessary to examine the units that had been in the meantime assigned to us. In Verviers we received the so-called Russian battalion. Its personnel was excellent since it was commanded by selected German officers and noncommissioned officers. The Russian troops were also particularly good and cooperative. As compared to the weapons and equipment of the other units the Russian battalion was excellently equipped. Its equipment was partly German, partly Russian. The most important weapons of this battalion, which were distributed to single companies, were groups of medium mortars of Russian origin and two so-called batteries of two field-gun howitzers, also of Russian origin each 12.2 cm. Ammunition was moved in numerous horse-drawn columns equipped in the manner of the "panje" columns used in Russia.
A local defence battalion, which until now had been employed as a railroad security unit had also been assigned to the division. Both officer and men, were old, 50 - 60. Many of them had had no military training or merely a short
training course. Most of them had never seen combat, except for a few who had been in World War I. Their equipment consisted of captured French rifles and light German machine guns type 08/15.
However, in spite of their deficiencies the attitude of this battalion in combat soon improved. How their self confidence had increased may be seen from the fact that the commanding officer, a 60 year old reserve major, protested bitterly to our operations officer when he heard that his outfit was to be pulled out of the front line.
A local defence company, composed of younger men than those of the battalion, and with average equipment was also added to the division.
Shortly before the division had reached the West Wall, two straggler companies and a military police squad, which had up to then belonged to a military administrate on headquarters stationed in Belgium, were assigned to the division.
The former had no combat value what — so — ever because the best men, including the commanding officer, were only anxious to get back, as quickly as possible, to their parent unit, and the others went AWOL at the first opportunity. From then on the division refused to accept such attachments.
The military police squad, on the other hand, after the men had got over the effects of their former way of living in a Belgian town in the communications zone, proved very good. They fought bravely and stubbornly and faced heavy losses of personnel without being shaken.
The above gives the setup of the 89th Infantry Division on 13 September 1944 when the operations officer was called to the corps command post to receive instructions for entrance into the West Wall.
As already mentioned we expected, or at least hoped, that now at last the replacements of personnel and supplies of materiel promised several times since the retreat from Normandy, would be available in the new MLR. It was also secretly hoped that the exhausted parent units of the division, which had been fighting steadily since the operations at the invasion front, would now be allowed some rest. Once again these hopes proved fallacious and the disappointment was great.
The sector of the West Wall which we we were commanded to take over was hardly the position an exhausted and seriously decimated unit could have expected. There was only one antitank obstacle, consisting of dragon's teeth, in the north sector, in the area of Lammersdorf. The wire entanglements protecting the line of pillboxes had been dismantled and what was left of them were lying about rusty and hardly had been built for 3.7 cm. We had to either alter them or build new positions. There was no time to build new positions.
The guns originally in these positions had been removed, so that here again our weapons had to be with difficulty adjusted. Even the carriages had been made for other type machine guns, type 42.