274th Infantry Regiment
The battle for Spicheren Heights.
The following account was written by Association historian, Charlie Pence, and appears in the Fall 1997 issue of the "Trailblazer", the Association's magazine, on pp. 10-12.

Editor's Background: The Division-as part of the XVth Corps offensive-carried out the Oetingen Raids and mounted countless combat patrols. This was like the quarterback throwing short passes to feel out the opponent. For Four days Corps units had staged a "limited offensive". Technically it was called "a line-straightening operation" for units east of the 70th. It was in preparation for the planned mid-March offensive to clear the Saar-Palatinate Triangle and trap the enemy between Patch's Seventh Army and Patton's Third.

But now came the real touchdown drive: "Capture Spicheren!"

The order came to Col. Sam Conley, CO of the 274th, on Feb 21. He chose his reserve battalion, the 1st, under Lt.Col. Tom Willis to do the job....

We now pick up with Pence's account.


Willis worked out a plan using A and F companies to loop around opposite sides of Spicheren and then go for an objective on the high ground behind (north of) Spicheren, thus effectively isolating the assigned target. On the 21st, 1/275 and its heavy weapons were already posted on Pfaffenberg hill to the south of Spicheren. It was left there by Willis, to be sent into Spicheren, shooting if necessary. The Item Company under Lt. Joe Donahue, was informed that enemy defenders were leaving Spicheren. Donohue took a 6-man patrol in, capturing the 25 Germans found remaining. Meanwhile the 274th's Able moved north on its assignment via an old trench system. Within eyeshot of Spicheren they spotted a white flag on its church steeple. A platoon was sent in to investigate.


Position of Trailblazer units in victory on Feb. 22. Grid line locations are referred to as Q 44-66, for the village of Spicheren, for instance. (Map by Pence)

The 275th's 3rd Battalion's attachment to the 274th ended on the 21st for all but Co. I. The two rifle companies, K and L, departed Etzling on their new mission at 03:40 hours. They reached the vicinity of Alsting an hour later. Then at 07:50 the column bore north climbing steadily upon the big ridge crowned by the 70th's final objective. Soon St. Arnual Wood had been entered and passed through. The 3rd Bn column was then in the Pfaffenwald in which it would turn to the west and reach the line it would attack. Already slowed by small arms firing, a little after noon the battalion column was stopped by a counterattack which included four or five armored vehicles with guns ablaze. The men dispersed and sought cover. So the leading 3rd Bn command group including the newly assigned CO, Maj. John Duffie, became isolated. Also exposed was a forward observer team. Its radioman, T/4 Dale Bowlin, found himself in an entrenchment relaying the FO's directions to counter the armored threat. One of the occupants decided that staying in the trench was no longer a viable option. He urged immediate departure rather than be captured. Bowlin heeded the plea along with three others, Maj. Duffie among them. The attempt failed. Bowlin was first disabled by shell fragments and then captured. Duffie was too.

The 3rd Bn was woefully vulnerable to enemy armor. First Sergeant Richard Becker, L/275, bitterly remembers the attached armored support's frequent failure to provide it: "The only thing they were ready with was alibis."


70th troops on the heights of Spicheren. (Signal Corps Photo)

This action on the 21st seemingly claimed the life of the Co. L Commander Lt. Howard White. He had been hit in the shelling. While attempting to use his radio to bring in defensive artillery fire, he died. Enemy armor continued firing for some time and inflicted numerous casualties be- fore retiring, probably because their ammunition was exhausted. Before that Love Company had given ground to the relentless direct fire. In addition to the dead company commander, Co. L's casualties that day were: All wounded, two officers and 36 men.

Co. K's experience was similar. Soon after reaching the woods, the company ran into flurries of small arms and machine gun fire. Then, in the Pfaffenwald came the devastating barrage of direct shelling. King's casualties: One killed, 10 wounded.

That night a captured German sergeant was brought in by Co. L for interrogation. He spoke good English and wanted to deal information in return for being sent to "the Texas in the U.S." When this was agreed to, the German revealed that a 300-man attack would come just at daylight. It would hit Love Company's present position. Informed of this, the new Battalion CO, Maj. Clifford Dykes, sent his S-3, Capt. Garnet Oliver, an experienced artillery fire plotter, forward. After making his plan to request a coordinated fire mission, Oliver instructed Lt. Beebe, L Company's last officer and its new commander, to make a timely withdrawal from the position. The ruse worked. The next morning, after L's withdrawal before daylight, came the enemy's shell- ing of the abandoned position. Then enemy infantry attacked. It was met by the TOT, Divarty's "time on target" barrage. The beaten enemy retired, leaving many dead and wounded behind.

Wednesday, the 22nd, was to be the toughest day of the campaign.

Division G-2 had confirmed that a POW taken by 274th 3rd Battalion the day before was a member of a new German division, the 559th Infantry. It comprised three regiments, one of them already in the immediate area. Readers of the G-2 report guessed the day would be that way. Still the G-3's information message to XVth Corps at 09:25 had a jaunty tone: "Sitrep #174 as of 0900A 22 Feb 45. 274 Inf jumped off at 0800A to seize high ground north of Spicheren (Q 44.66). 275 Inf jumped off at 0800A to seize the high ground north of Spicheren (Q 44.66). 276th Inf resumed attack on Forbach (Q 39.65) at 0800A." On the map, those quadrant lines neatly framed off the western two-thirds of the Gifertwald. But they ignored the eastern third, including the dominant Hill 341, which certainly would have to be taken.

After beating off an early morning counterattack, the 275th 3rd Battalion jumped off, attacking west through the Pfaffenwald and encountering some resistance. From the line of departure, the near edge of the Gifertwald objective was about a half mile away. At 13:50 the Battalion crossed the open ground and entered the Gifertwald only to run into an antitank ditch covered by bunkers with mutually covering firing apertures. In time an effective bunker-flush-ing procedure was found: Dropping grenades down the ventilator. Five seconds after the arming - before the live grenade would roll out a safety exit in the side of the bunker.

Gen. Herren, keeping aware of the attack's progress at the 274th CP, was pushing hard. At 15:30 he called the G-3, Col. Townsend, and explained the situation: The 274th was on the western part of the objective. There was a gap of 600 yards - full of Germans in the woods - separating it from the 275th. The 275th had run into a deep ditch and barriers just inside the eastern edge of the Gifertwald. Herren concluded that someone would have to push the 275th to close the gap and help dig out those Germans.

At 17:50 K and L reached the north slope of the Gifertwald. The advance was halted at 19:00. The battalion set up perimeter defense, dug in, and sent out patrols east and west to make contact. The Co. K journalist called the 22nd "the worst day's fighting in the entire time this company fought in Europe."

Lt. Davis' F/274, approaching the road at the Gifertwald northwest corner, surprised an enemy battalion as it was deploying and practically destroyed the entire outfit. The enemy resisted the Fox advance with heavy machine gun and artillery fire inflicting heavy casualties. But the Trail- blazers pressed on. Co. A kept pace with Co. F, advancing north through the Gifertwald. But the lead tank moving up in support was disabled by a mine, blocking the path for the three tanks following. So Lt. Adkins moved his platoon up on the right and came upon a pillbox. A bazooka round was fired into its metal door and a dozen Krauts were flushed out. By early afternoon both 1st Bn companies were secured.

The 22nd was the climactic day of the battle for Spicheren Heights. But the enemy continued making counter-attacks for five days until the Heights were judged secured on Feb. 27.

Estimated Casualty Figures
for the limited offensive

Unit

KIA

274th 87
275th 116
276th 77
Support Units 5

Related Items

Awards || Campaign Awards || Documents || Personal Accounts || Maps || Behren Medal Presentation || Excerpt from letter by Col. Bob Cheves || Reg. Hqs and Battle sites || Spicheren Heights