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