Ninety-ninth veterans who participated in the battles on the Wied River line east of the Rhine River in late March 1945, will be interested in a recently published book, “Victory was Beyond Their Grasp,” by Douglas E. Nash (Aberjona Press, Bedford PA, 2008).
The book is a history of the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division in the last year of the war, with particular and detailed emphasis on the division’s grenadier regiment.
The 272nd was programmed to participate in the German attack at Hofen-Monschau at the northern edge of the Elsenborn Ridge on Dec. 16, 1944.
However, the division got entangled in the Hurtgen Forest with the U.S. 78th Infantry Division moving east as part of the Roer River dams campaign. Our defense of Hofen-Monschau might have been much more bloody had the 272nd been able to mix in it.
The 99th’s principal (and also bloody) encounter with the 272nd occurred in Hunningen, Germany, and along the Wied River line.
Following is a description from Nash’s book (pg. 298). “They (the 393rd and 394th) had simply become extremely proficient in waging war,” readers of the page will note.
From the book
“Immediately after Hunningen fell, the 272nd VGD found itself being pressured even as it withdrew across the Wied. Determined to give the Germans no rest, Lt. Gen. Walter E. Lauer, the commander of the 99th Infantry Division, ordered his regiments to stay close on the heels of their retreating foe and use the enemy’s confusion to score tactical advantages that would come in handy later. Though the main body of Konig’s division was able to make its way to safety, the division’s rearguard suffered heavily against the aggressively pursuing Americans while carrying out its mission.
“From 17 to 20 March, Lauer’s 393rd and 394th Infantry Regiments pushed through and seized the villages of Hesseln, Frorath, Hausen, Langscheid and Solscheid. Indeed, the greatest impediment to the American’s advance was the difficult terrain, which for the most part, consisted of heavily wooded hilltops and draws, steep defiles, and streams. The resistance of the German rearguard was sporadic and poorly organized, though isolated detachments occasionally fought ferociously to defend key hilltop positions or road junctions.
“The attached battle group of 223 men from the 326th VGD defending Hausen surrendered to the 3rd Battalion of Col. Woolnough’s 393rd Infantry Regiment after only token resistance. Though most of these men were stragglers who had been hastily incorporated into this battle group to defend the town, it was still a significant loss, placing the Americans on the Wied for the first time.
“Another reason for the American’s success was the often-overlooked fact that they had simply become extremely proficient at waging war. Gone were the days of Kasserine Pass, when the Amis could be dealt with easily. Since then, the average American infantry or armored division had become a deadly and efficient fighting organization, aided by control of the air and a superbly functioning logistical system. Man for man, the GI, long derided by the Germans as being poorly suited for combat, had surpassed his German counterpart by this stage of the war. Younger, fitter, better trained, better fed, and secure in the knowledge that the war was almost won, the American soldier now almost always bested his German opponent, even when the odds were even.
“German defensive preparations were dealt another setback when Major von Koehler, commander of the 403rd Combat Engineer Training Regiment, was captured by troops of the 99th Infantry Division on 20 March. On his person were found complete maps detailing all of LXVII Corps’ unit locations; division and regimental boundaries; as well as locations of artillery and anti-tank defenses. This information was quickly disseminated throughout the V Corps, and the 99th Infantry Division was to use this knowledge to great effect tin its assault along the Wied against the 272nd VGD. There is no evidence that the Germans even knew that their plan was compromised, since no effective countermeasures appeared to have been taken.”
104 N. Water St.
Chestertown MD 21620