By the end of October 1944, Allied armies had driven the
Germans from France and from a portion of the low countries,
had penetrated Germany itself at several points and were de-
veloping a full scale attack against the Siegfried Line.
This vaunted defense had already been pierced at Aachen by
our First Army but the front had subsequently stabilized.
Plans were now afoot to punch the Siegfried Line at Geilenkirchen,
fourteen miles north of Aachen. Ninth US Army was selected
to do the job.
Having lost Aachen and having failed in launching a successful
counteroffensive further north in the Meijel area, the German
high command determined to sit the winter out, holding what
was left by means of passive, stubborn defense. The consequent
period of temporary stabilization was utilized by the Germans
to complete a long desired substitution of infantry for armor
in the line. As it later turned out von Rundstedt was even then
assembling the force for his ill-fated winter Ardennes plunge.
When the Ozark Division was committed in the Ninth Army sector
the enemy was found to be making local readjustments in troop
dispositions, harassing the front with propaganda and artillery
barrages; and sending our patrols now and then to capture
prisoners for intelligence purposes. And the Krauts were
making the most of the opportunity to improve their ruptured
positions, particularly to seal off the now exposed flank of
the Wurm valley fortifications. Concrete emplacements were
still being built. Extensive minefields were being laid.
Supply and transportation lines were being reestablished.
Forces were being reshuffled with SS troops interspersed
here and there to stiffen morale. Artillery in large numbers
and of large caliber were being brought up and disposed to
meet the ever increasing threat of further Allied thrusts
into Germany. Winter fogs and rain enabled the enemy to
accomplish this reorganization and consolidation without
fear of air observation or interference.
That part of the Siegfried Line which faced the Ozark
Division consisted of the rear area pillboxes, with
walls 8 to 10 feet thick, designed to withstand direct
artillery fire and aerial bombardment. Several years of
weathering had effectively camouflaged these forts, most of
Scrounging a roof for a foxhole
which were now grass grown and hidden by natural vegetation. Other pillboxes were built to look like outhouses, houses, barns, haystacks all of which harmonized with the natural landscape. Most of these structures contained only machine guns but a few housed anti-tank and other direct fire weapons. These strong points were further protected by belts of mines and wire, complicated mazes of trenches, foxholes and anti-tank ditches. Tanks, self propelled guns, and assault guns were dug in on reverse slopes in hull-down positions and hidden behind pillboxes.
Jutting out into the Ninth Army sector was an enemy salient fixed on the Geilenkirchen hub, a transportation and communications center with a population of 20,000. For some time Allies and Germans had been swapping punches in this sector but neither side was able to land a solid blow. Germans were just as determined to hold the town as the Allies were to take it. They were all set for a fight to the death.
Our initial mission was one of defense. Beginning on 3 November the Division sector extended from Kreuzrath through the little demolished dirty towns of Birgden, Hatterath, Gillrath, Teveren, Briel to Waurichen. Active defense measures included countless patrols to maintain relentless pressure along the entire front, combined with heavy artillery fire on enemy rear areas. Flanked by the 113th Cavalry Group on the left and 2d Armored Division on the right, our troops screened preparations for the attack on Geilenkirchen. The next two weeks saw considerable regrouping and shifting of lines as the Division sector was moved southeast.