After a brief pause at the Meuse to allow their supply lines to catch up, the Allies resumed their advance to the Rhine River in early September. The main effort was an attack through Belgium and Holland toward the Rhine and the Ruhr industrial area by Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery's British-Canadian 21st Army Group, assisted by the First U. S. Army of Lieutenant General Omar Bradley's 12th U.S. Army Group. Lieutenant General George S. Patton Jr.'s Third U. S. Army, also a part of 12th Army Group, was assigned the mission of conducting a secondary offensive through Lorraine and across the Moselle River to occupy the Siegfried Line sector covering the Saar and then to seize Frankfurt.
The initial plans for Third Army's operations envisioned a rapid, continuous action spearheaded by armored units to occupy Lorraine, penetrate the West Wall, and cross the Rhine. However, difficult terrain, bad weather, logistical shortages, and a tenacious German defense delayed the Third Army's arrival at the West Wall until mid-December 1944, at which time several of its key units had to be diverted to block an unexpected German counteroffensive in the Ardennes.
The Province of Lorraine sits astride the traditional invasion route between France and Germany. A plateau ranging from 600 to 1,300 feet in elevation, it has many rivers and ridges that provide natural lines of defense. Its rolling farmlands are frequently broken by dense woods or towns that limit observation and fields of fire in combat situations. Moreover, Lorraine was heavily fortified. The French Maginot Line ran through Lorraine, and the city of Metz had been strongly fortified since Roman times. In 1944, two high-speed highways led from Lorraine into Germany: the first from Metz via Saarbrucken to Mannheim and the second from Nancy through the Vosges Mountains to Strasbourg.
The fall climate of Lorraine is foggy and rainy. The rainfall in autumn 1944 was two to three times above average, with 7 inches of rain falling in November alone. Flooded streams and oceans of mud hampered the mobility of the heavily mechanized American forces, and poor flying weather limited Allied air support. At the start of the campaign, Patton's Third Army had only two available corps: the XII under Major General Manton S. Eddy and the XX under Major General Walton H. Walker. VIII Corps, under Major General Troy H. Middleton, remained tied down clearing German units from the Brittany ports. However, for the first phase of the campaign, Major General Wade Haislip's XV Corps was available, thus giving Third Army a force of three armored and six infantry divisions, supported by the usual array of nondivisional combat and logistical units.
Patton's combat power was limited by the fact that his forces were at the far end of a fragile logistical line. Priority for logistical support had been assigned to Montgomery's 21st Army Group, and the French ports had not yet been fully cleared. Moreover, the U.S. Army was already beginning to run short of infantry replacements.
German forces were in even worse shape, having been badly battered on the Eastern Front and in Normandy. The principal German units facing Third Army were the LXXXII Corps and XLVII Panzer Corps of the German First Army under General der Infanterie (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general) Kurt von der Chevallerie, which, on 8 September, was joined with the German Nineteenth Army in Army Group G, commanded by Generaloberst (U.S. equiv. full general) Johannes von Blaskowitz. Many of the German combat units were seriously understrength in both men and horses, their primary means of mobility. Elite units, such as the Waffen-SS and Luftwaffe parachute divisions, were in better shape, but many of the German defenders were in newly formed Volksgrenadier divisions manned by poorly equipped troops of low quality. Although German lines of communications were shorter, Allied air interdiction made it difficult to move men and supplies to the front.
The campaign opened in early September with only limited success. In the north, the 90th Infantry Division of XX Corps suffered heavy casualties in unsuccessful efforts to cross the Moselle near Metz, but south of Metz, the 5th Infantry Division gained a limited bridgehead over the river. Farther south, XII Corps had better luck after a few setbacks. On 13 September, the 4th Armored Division conducted a double envelopment around Arracourt, 20 miles beyond the Moselle, and forced the German First Army to evacuate the city of Nancy on 14 September.
A German counterattack from the south designed to destroy Third Army before it could link up with the 6th U.S. Army Group advancing from southern France failed when Haislip's newly assigned XV Corps hit and shattered the German left flank. In the center, a German attempt between 19 and 29 September to squeeze out the 4th Armored's Arracourt salient also failed. As a result, General Blaskowitz was relieved as commander of Army Group G by General der Panzertruppen (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general) Hermann Balck. On the northern side of the XII Corps salient, in the forest east of Nancy, a weak German force almost broke through the 35th Infantry Division in confused forest fighting between 27 September and 1 October, but the front was restored when Patton committed his army-level reserve, the 6th Armored Division.
On 22 September, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower reaffirmed the logistical priority of Montgomery's 21st Army Group and ordered Patton to restrict his offensive operations. In addition, Patton had to relinquish the 7th Armored Division and eventually the entire XV Corps. Despite serious shortages of gasoline and other supplies, the always aggressive Patton continued local attacks during October, the most important of which was a vain effort to capture Fort Driant on the west bank of the Moselle facing Metz, an attempt that cost the 5th Infantry Division some 500 casualties.
The October pause was also costly for the Germans. General Balck had to transfer two divisions, and several of his higher headquarters, including that of the Fifth Panzer Army, were moved north for the planned Ardennes Offensive. This situation left the German First Army with approximately 87,000 men and 130 tanks to oppose the 250,000 men and 700 tanks of Third Army.
The Allied logistical situation improved at the end of October as the port of Antwerp was restored to use. The commander of 12th Army Group, General Bradley, planned a new offensive, but the First Army on Patton's left was unable to meet the schedule, and Third Army attacked alone on 8 November. Using skillful deception techniques, XX Corps on the left took Metz in a double envelopment between 8 and 19 November. Some of the Metz forts were captured by surprise; others were neutralized and bypassed. North of Metz, in only five days, the Americans constructed the longest Bailey bridge in Europe, allowing the commitment of the new 10th Armored Division to pursue the Germans back to the Saar River.
The XII Corps attacks east of Nancy did not go as smoothly. The 26th Infantry Division suffered over 6,000 casualties in heavy fighting between 18 and 28 November. The 4th Armored Division passed through the 26th Division on 22 November and seized a crossing over the Saar the next day. By accident, the 4th Armored ran into and halted the German Panzer Lehr Division, which was moving to attack the XV Corps, then part of Seventh Army to the south. On the left of XII Corps, both the 35th and 80th Infantry Divisions used artillery and close-air support to reduce German outposts in the old Maginot Line. The 6th Armored Division passed through the 35th Infantry Division on 25 November, but its advance was limited by mud and German fortifications.
The slow advance of Third Army in November was mainly the result of poor weather and a lack of mass, for its nine understrength divisions were spread along a 62-mile front. Nevertheless, by 2 December, the Third Army had reached the West Wall along the Upper Saar. Under cover of fog, a battalion of the 95th Infantry Division crossed the river on the morning of 3 December and seized the bridge at Saarlautern intact. Intense fighting followed as the American troops inched their way through a maze of houses and pillboxes. Heavy battle and nonbattle casualties, plus the declining availability of infantry replacements, limited the American advance. Just as Patton's infantry began to make progress, the Germans launched their Ardennes counteroffensive.
Between 16 and 18 December, Patton halted his advance, spread his divisions to cover wider frontages, and turned the 4th Armored and 80th Infantry Divisions 90 degrees to the left and rushed to attack the left flank of the German advance in the Ardennes, thereby ending the Lorraine Campaign after three and a half months of heavy fighting under trying logistical and climatic conditions.
Charles R. Shrader
Cole, Hugh M. The United States Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations: The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1965.; Kemp, Anthony. The Unknown Battle: Metz, 1944. Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein and Day, 1981.; Third U.S. Army Headquarters. After Action Report, Third U.S. Army: 1 August 1944–9 May 1945. 2 vols. Regensburg, Germany: Third U.S. Army, 1945.; Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944–1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.