45th Infantry Division Thunderbird, Second Worldwar

Reipertswiller, France

45th Infantry Division Thunderbird, Second WorldWar
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The following summary of the Battle of Reipertswiller was written by, and is used here with the permission of, Ltc.(Retired) Hugh Foster III. Mr. Foster is in the process of writing a book devoted to this battle, which almost decimated the 157th Infantry Regiment.

Photographs of Reipertswiller, Then and Now

SUMMARY OF THE FIGHT AT REIPERTSWILLER, JANUARY 1945

11 January

The entire 157th Regiment occupied defensive positions far to the east of Reipertswiller, vicinity Niederbronn. lst and 3rd Battalions, and lst Battalion, 315th Infantry (attached to 157th), were in defensive positions. 2nd Battalion was in reserve positions.

lst Battalion, 314th Infantry (attached to 45th Division) was thrown back from positions on Hill 388, just north of Reipertswiller. 2nd Battalion, 157th Infantry, was ordered to move by truck to Reipertswiller, and attack immediately to retake Hill 388.

Long after dark 2nd Battalion launched its attacked to retake Hill 388. The battalion managed to reach the top of the hill just before midnight, having met no resistance.

12 January

The Germans reacted to 2nd Battalion's presence early in the morning by launching ground attacks and inundating the companies with long range rifle and machine gun fire. There was bitter fighting all day and several men went down to sniper fire. The rest of the regiment remained in positions to the east. Late in the night the battalion was alerted to prepare to turn over positions to the 314th Infantry and then to assemble in Reipertswiller.

13 January:

Relief of 2nd Battalion began just after midnight and the battalion was assembled in Reipertswiller at dawn. The battalion was then ordered to move immediately to occupy defensive positions vicinity Hill 415, northeast of Reipertswiller. The rest of the regiment would arrive later in the day and would attack the next morning --- 2nd Battalion would be in reserve during the attack. G Company moved to the top of Hill 415, proper; F Company took positions to the left (west) of G Company; and E Company occupied a reserve position generally behind F Company. There was heavy shelling all day as the battalion relieved elements of the 276th Infantry (attached to 45th Division).

lst Battalion, 157th Infantry, moved into the Reipertswiller area by truck and foot march late in the afternoon to occupy positions to the right (east) of 2nd Battalion. A Company moved under fire into defensive positions to the front right of G Company, on the forward slope of Hill 415; the company was only very loosely tied in with G Company. B Company went into position to the right rear of A Company, on the edge of a draw -- no American unit could be found to the right of B Company; the area was open all the way to Reybach. C Company occupied a reserve/assembly position to the rear of the Main Line of Resistance (MLR), near Hill 403, and prepared to lead the battalion's attack the next morning.

The lst Battalion attack plan was completed at 2000 hours and entered in the unit journal: Attack to right of 3rd Battalion in company column, C, B, A; One section HMG (heavy machine guns) with C and B Companies; A Company in reserve.

Late in the day 3rd Battalion was trucked from Jagertal to Rothbach and then moved by foot into an assembly area about 3 kilometers behind the MLR.
During the night, small groups of the 276th Infantry were located in the woods, where they had been abandoned during the frenetic withdrawal of their unit.

14 January

Just after sunup lst and 3rd Battalions kicked off the attack. C Company moved out in column from its assembly/reserve position at about 0900 hours, marching through newly fallen snow toward the MLR, 1,000 yards to the front. 3rd Battalion moved from its assembly area at about the same time -- the plan was for both battalions to pass through the MLR at the same time, 3rd Battalion on the west (left) of Hill 115 and lst Battalion on the east (right) of the hill.

C Company, leading the lst Battalion attack, intended to attack from the east side of Hill 415 and follow across the east side of Hill 363 to its objective, the Hill 390 ridge. However, navigation in the snowy forest was very difficult; the company missed a trail fork, moved behind Hill 415, and passed through F Company, on the west side of Hill 415, in 3rd Battalion's sector. The company commander realized his error, but there was nothing to do except notify battalion and keep going, since artillery fire was falling in the area. C Company moved only a couple of hundred yards forward of the MLR before it was taken under heavy direct fire from Hill 363; the company ground to a halt just short of Road Junction (RJ) 328 and sought shelter from the fire. C Company remained in position short of RJ 328 for the rest of the day and the night.

Right behind C Company came Companies K, L, and I in column. The 3rd Battalion column bumped into the rear of C Company, and also halted. At this point C and most of K Company were forward of the MLR, L Company was partway through the defensive line of F Company, and I Company was hugging the slope of Hill 415 behind the MLR -- and the Germans were pouring in the fire; mortars, artillery and rocket fire splattered over the whole area.

Early in the afternoon, 3rd Battalion pulled back a bit and headed off to the west (left), clearing the area about mid-afternoon. As the companies got out of the shelling, they peeled off the march column to resume a northerly route toward Hills 400 and 420. The battalion halted for the night about halfway to those hills: I Company halted for the night in the Fliess Draw, just to the west of Hill 363; L Company halted on the forward slope of Hill 341; and K Company halted in the Spielbaechel Draw along the trail between Hills 341 and 401.

Unbeknownst to Lt. Col. Sparks' 3rd Battalion, the lst Battalion, 315th Infantry, had moved into the area immediately north of Reipertswiller early that morning and had also attacked to the north. C Company/315th took Hill 401 by the end of the day. B Company/315th and K and L Companies/157th had cris-crossed each other's trails during the day; at dark, B/315th had established itself between K and L Companies.

2nd Battalion remained in place during the day, under heavy shelling.

Plans for the next day called for 3rd Battalion to seize its intermediate objectives, Hills 400 and 120. First Battalion was to continue its attack to seize Hill 390 (on line to the right of 3rd Battalion) and its ridgeline extending to the east. Lt. Col. Krieger ordered C Company to renew its assault against Hill 363, seize that hill and Hill 390 and then link with 3rd Battalion. Capt. Stough's B Company was ordered to attack across the Brambach Valley on the battalion's right, seize the northeastern extension of Hill 415, then attack and seize the eastern ridge of Hill 390, tying in there with C Company.

15 January

3rd Battalion moved out at daylight, encountering negligible resistance, and at about noon, K Company climbed onto Hill 420, having come through the saddle between Hills 400 and 420, and occupied the hill with the main line of the company facing generally to the west. L Company moved quickly onto Hill 400, taking several prisoners enroute, and went into a defensive position on the northern side of the hill. I Company began to move through the forest, heading for the saddle between the two hills.

In the lst Battalion area, Lt. Floyd was told to hold off his attack against Hill 363 until Capt. Stough's B Company seized the northeastern extension of Hill 415. Capt. Stough placed his supporting HMG's in A Company's line with instructions to fire down the ridgeline to suppress the German defenders while B Company moved through the draw and attacked the ridge. Once the ridge was taken, the HMG's were to displace along B Company's attack route, join the company on the ridge and prepare to provide overhead fire for the subsequent attack on the Hill 390 ridge. All went according to plan until the moment B Company occupied the ridge. Suddenly the Germans dumped a tremendous concentration of mortar and artillery fire on B Company and then opened up on them with long-range machine-gun fire and close-in small arms fire from expertly camouflaged positions. It soon became obvious to Stough that the ridge position could not be maintained, and he began to pull the company back into the draw. However, the HMG section had seen the company occupy the ridge and had begun displacement along the attack route, oblivious to the withdrawal of B Company. The HMG men came out of the draw onto the slope of the ridge just as B Company was heading toward the draw. The HMG men were engulfed in a rocket barrage and suffered a few wounded, including Lt. Hancock, the Platoon Leader. B Company and the HMG men withdrew to the previous nighttime position.

After B Company was repulsed, Lt. Floyd was ordered to try to move against Hill 363, but this attempt got nowhere in the face of terrific direct and indirect fire. Late in the afternoon, Lt. Floyd was ordered to send a patrol along the route used by 3rd Battalion -- this patrol ran into fire in the valley west of Hill 363 and returned to the company.

lst Battalion, 315th Infantry, remained in place during the day, and was alerted to withdraw the next morning. 2nd Battalion was ordered to prepare to move E and G Companies into the 1/315 area the next morning. F Company was to remain in place as the regimental reserve.

At about 1600 hours, I Company moved through the saddle, two platoons occupying positions on the northern side and the remaining platoon defending the south side of the saddle. Almost as soon as I Company arrived on the saddle, the hills were subjected to two or three violent German counterattacks -- some Germans managed to get behind the battalion. SS troops participated in some, if not all, of these attacks. Although the Germans had been thrown back, the American line was too long for the few men available and was in danger of collapse if another determined attack was launched. There was a very real concern that there might be a breakthrough of 3rd Battalion positions. Accordingly, while ammunition was going forward to 3rd Battalion and the wounded were being brought back, E Company was ordered immediately to move from its position on Hill 415 to a blocking position generally behind 3rd Battalion -- Hill 341 (where L Company had spent the previous night.) This move was accomplished without problem.

3rd Battalion was ordered to hold its positions the next day. 2nd Battalion was ordered to shift G and E Companies to the regimental left flank (Hill 401), relieve elements of lst Battalion, 315th Infantry, and attack up the left boundary to link up with K Company on Hil1 420. lst Battalion was to leave A and B Companies in place until C Company could seize Hill 363, then advance the battalion to Hill 390 and its ridge, linking with L Company.

16 January

3rd Battalion maintained its positions atop Hills 420 and 400 and in the saddle between the hills under heavy shelling, and fought back repeated German ground attacks.

C Company made another attempt at Hill 363, but could not move forward at all in the face of the fierce fire from that area. Finally, Lt. Floyd was ordered to take his company into the valley to his west (left), bypass Hill 363, follow 3rd Battalion's route to Hill 400, and then attack east to gain Hill 390. C Company managed to get onto Hill 400 after only a slight brush with the Germans, but could not launch an attack against Hill 390 because both I and L Companies were under ground attack when C Company arrived on the hill. C Company occupied defensive positions on the rear slope of Hill 400 and one platoon faced into the saddle covering a gap between companies I and L. In addition to frequent small attacks on the hills themselves, German infiltrators were slipping around the flanks of the hills, and when the C Company supply sergeant attempted to bring three jeeps of supplies to the company later that afternoon the convoy was ambushed and all but two of the men were killed or captured.

After provisioning, B Company moved out but was hit by a mortar barrage on the western slope of Hill 415. Capt. Stough was wounded; Lt. Castro, the only other officer in the company, assumed command of B Company and moved it forward until stopped by German machine-gun fire from the north and east just as the company reached the foot of Hill 341. B Company managed to get onto the forward slope of Hill 341 late in the afternoon, but could move no further. The ambushed jeeps could be seen, but not reached.

G and E Companies were ordered to move to Hill 401, relieve elements of lst Battalion, 315th Infantry (attached to 45th Division), and to attack down the ridge to link with K Company on Hill 420. Both companies conducted the move to Hill 401, and late in the afternoon began to move down the ridge in column, with G Company in the lead. Just at dark, and just as the lead elements contacted the K Company positions, Germans cut the column, separating G Company, one platoon (2nd) of E Company and some H Company machine gunners from the rest of E Company.

Efforts were made to fight through this German resistance, but to no avail. Those elements north of the break in the column joined with K Company well after dark and occupied positions facing the ridge along which they had just come. The remainder of E Company withdrew to Hill 401.
During the day Regiment created a Composite Company from members of the Regimental
Headquarters Company and the Regimental Antitank Company. This ad hoc group was ordered to block
the Spielbaechel Draw between Hills 335 and 350, somewhat to the southwest of B Company on Hill 341.

The Composite Company moved into position late in the afternoon.

Until midnight light trucks, light tanks, and armored scout cars ran through the Spielbaechel and Fliess Draws carrying supplies to the saddle between Hills 400 and 420 and evacuating the wounded. At the same time the Germans steadily reinforced their encroachment of both American flanks. Just after midnight, the German flanks were joined behind the hills and Companies I, K, L, C and G, along with portions of D, E, and M were surrounded. Two light tanks remained forward, on the reverse slope of the saddle, their 37mm guns facing to the rear. In the saddle there were 16 stretcher cases, which had not been evacuated.

Plans for the next day were fairly simple, if impossible to carry out. 3rd Battalion was to hold its positions. B Company was to link with C Company, then seize Hill 390 and its eastern ridge. E Company was to attack to link with G and K Companies.

17 January

From their positions on the two hills and the saddle the men of 3rd Battalion and the attached C, G, and E Company men rebuffed repeated German assaults and watched as more and more enemy troops infiltrated around their flanks. The remainder of E Company (those men not already cut off with K Company) made repeated efforts to break through to Hill 400, but was unable to make any headway.

An hour or so after daylight a B Company patrol reached the ambushed jeeps; finding no-one alive, the patrol returned just in time to help repulse a German attack from the northeast. F Company was attached to lst Battalion for another go at Hill 363, but the American artillery preparation fell on F Company and the attack ground to a halt.
In the afternoon Col. O'Brien asked division for permission to withdraw the surrounded men; permission was denied by Maj. Gen. Frederick with the cryptic statement that to withdraw "would show our weakness."

At 1600 hours B Company's Lt. Castro reported he and his men were firmly pinned in place, that his two platoons were down to 6 men and 16 men, respectively, and that a D Company machine gun position had taken a direct heavy mortar hit and there were only two machine gunners left. Fourteen men were sent as reinforcements to B Company and later in the afternoon another 10 men (from D Company) were also sent forward to B Company.

Late in the afternoon Col. O'Brien, ordered the Composite Company to attack in conjunction with a pair of light tanks: "Your mission is to protect the light tanks while they clear behind 2nd and 3rd Battalions." Before the Composite Company attack could start B Company had to knock back yet another German attack from the right front. Shortly after dark the Composite Company moved out up the Spielbaechel Draw behind the two light tanks. Capt. Cannon, the Commander, and the two Antitank Company platoons under Lts. Berg and Hainey split off from the main valley trail and approached B Company via a trail which followed just below the crest of the ridge upon which Hill 341 sat; they moved parallel to the remainder of the company and the two light tanks which followed the main trail. Both groups ran into Germans and heavy fire; Capt. Cannon was killed and Lt. Hainey was wounded. The two Antitank Company platoons withdrew to starting positions under control of Lt. Berg. The tanks and the 'platoon' of Headquarters Company men under Lt. Farley, which had accompanied them, withdrew all the way to the Reipertswiller road.

At about 2100 hours G Company, 179th Infantry, arrived in the area in advance of its parent battalion, which was to be attached to the 157th; the company was ordered into an assembly area to the rear of lst Battalion and was to prepare to move into the line in the morning.

In a desperate effort to get ammunition and rations to the surrounded troops Lt. Talkington, 3rd Battalion's A&P Platoon Leader, volunteered to lead two light tanks with trailers up the draw. However, after moving only a short distance the tanks began to slip on the icy trail. One tank slid into a ditch and overturned. Talkington unloaded the trailers and stacked the supplies on the rear deck of the leading tank; with this shift in load, the tank was able to move and it proceeded on alone. Surprisingly, this bold plan succeeded without German interference -- by midnight, the last resupply to reach the surrounded men arrived in the saddle.

Plans for the next day centered on breaking through to the surrounded men. 2nd and 3rd Battalions were ordered to assemble as many men as possible and attack to link up with the forward troops. lst Battalion, however, was given a very detailed -- and surely impossible -- order: Form a composite battalion consisting of A, F, and B Companies, the Composite Company, and G Company, 179th Infantry, and attack to seize Hill 363, Hill 390 and its eastern ridge.

18 January

Early in the morning (just after midnight) the light tank that had managed to get to the saddle the previous night with ammunition and rations attempted to make its way back to the rear. The tank was ambushed at the foot of Hill 420; the three crewmen were wounded and captured, but Lt. Talkington managed to escape, although he was slightly wounded.

Just at dawn the Germans launched a violent counterattack against the Hill 420 positions held by G Company and 2d Platoon, E Company. The attack was so sudden and was initiated at such close range that there was hardly time to react. Some survivors reported that the Germans used flame throwers in this attack. The E and G Company men were thrown from their positions. Many men were killed or captured and all machine guns (possibly as many as six) were lost as the survivors dashed back into the K Company line. Only 18 men from G Company made it to the K Company line, and it is possible that all the E Company men were lost, for there is no further mention of this platoon in the journals and reports.

Desperate to break in to the surrounded troops, regiment ordered all battalions to renew their attacks with all available men. None of these attacks succeeded. The remnants of E Company, bolstered by a few cooks and clerks and some men from the battalion Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon, renewed efforts to attack down the ridge from Hill 901, but met with no success whatsoever.

Lt. Berg -- the sole surviving Antitank Company officer remaining in the Composite Company -- was ordered by Lt. Col. Krieger to move forward to link up with the remnants of B Company. Berg had reorganized the survivors of the two Antitank Company platoons into a single platoon under his control; he led this group to the east onto the Hill 341 ridge and then moved north to link with B Company. When he joined B Company, Lt. Berg had 19 men with him and B Company had about an equal number. Lt. Farley's Headquarters Company 'platoon' was still somewhere in the rear -- the Composite Company had ceased to exist, except in the imagination of the regimental staff.
Lt. Seay, lst Battalion's Transportation Officer volunteered to lead two light tanks up the Spielbaechel Draw to bolster B Company's defense. Although one of the tanks was temporarily halted when its driver was wounded by artillery fire, both finally managed to make the run, easing around the tank that had overturned the night before, and took up positions on B Company's left.

3rd Battalion's remnants (those not already surrounded) also tried to attack in accordance with the desperate order from regiment. Late in the morning the Antitank Platoon and three M-8 scout cars began an attack up the Spielbaechel Draw and the Hill 350 ridge on its right (east). Although Lt. Berg's platoon and Lt. Seay and two tanks had recently moved through the area without interference from the Germans, this group moved only a couple of hundred yards before being driven to ground by German defensive fire. Lt. Baze, in the leading scout car, was mortally wounded by a sniper. The scout cars and many of the AT Platoon men withdrew, but several GI's remained near the trail, pinned down. A squad leader, Bernard Fleming, managed to dash through the fire and inform Lt. Col. Sparks of the plight of the other men. There were two medium tanks at Sparks' forward CP, but they could not squeeze: past the overturned light tank, so while Sparks planned his rescue effort, a recovery vehicle moved up the trail and pulled the light tank to the rear. Once the trail was free Sparks led the two medium tanks forward.
Although subjected to heavy artillery fire he managed to free the trapped antitank platoon men after firing several thousand rounds of machine gun ammunition into the trees. Sparks dismounted under fire, rescued some wounded men, and led the others to safety, evacuating the wounded on the rear decks of the tanks, which backed down the trail to safety.

G/179 moved up the Fliess Draw and managed to reach the southwestern slope of Hill 363, to the left front of F Company, which was on Hill 415. Contact was made with F Company, but B Company could not be reached. After G/179 arrived a coordinated attack was attempted. G/179 and F Company moved against Hill 363 and A Company tried to attack east down the ridge of Hill 415, in an effort to reach the Reybach Valley. The attacks got nowhere. Soon Germans were reported infiltrating around both flanks of G/179.

Meanwhile, 2nd Battalion, 179th Infantry (less its G Company, which was attached to lst Battalion, 157th), with two light tanks began pushing up the Spielbaechel Draw, under orders to link with the left flank of B Company and then to push on to break through to the surrounded companies. This battalion managed to pull up even with B Company and even managed to contact E Company on the left (west), but could get no further.
During the day German infiltrators were able to close all supply avenues through the valley -- the hills were well and truly cut off.

Plans for the next day called for all units except 2nd Battalion, 179th Infantry, and lst Battalion to hold in place. 2nd Battalion, 179th, was to attack to break in to the trapped 3rd Battalion and then close the gap between E and K Companies. lst Battalion (actually a composite of A, B and F Companies, G/179, and remnants of the Composite Company) was to renew its attacks on Hills 363 and 390.

19 January

The soldiers trapped on the hills continued to resist small German holding attacks and endured heavy shelling. The supply of ammunition was rapidly dwindling, especially in K, I, and G Companies. The toll of dead and wounded mounted. Medical supplies were exhausted and many of the men had not had food for two days.

On the regimental right flank A and F Companies and G/179 renewed attacks against Hill 363, without success. Later G/ 179 with two medium tanks began trying to push up the Fliess Draw to link with the right of B Company, but after moving only a short distance this group was stopped by heavy fire and trees felled across the trail. One of the medium tanks slipped into a ditch and overturned. For several hours the company commander and several of his men were cut off ahead of the tanks.

B Company and E/179 were supposed to attack in conjunction with G/179, but could not move forward due to heavy fire. Two more medium tanks drove up the Fliess Draw to a point just short of B Company and fired their main guns at German positions ahead of B Company. However, this tank gun fire was ineffective and the resistance that faced B Company was not weakened. lst Battalion had not managed to move a single inch forward.

Late in the afternoon men who had been evacuated from the Composite Company for exhaustion were gathered, coupled with the Headquarters Company men under Lt. Farley, and this group was dispatched to plug the gap between G/179 and F Company.

To the left of B Company, the attack of 2nd Battalion, 179th Infantry, was stalled by felled trees, which prevented tank support and by heavy artillery and small arms fire. No ground was gained. At the same time the remnants of E Company, bolstered by cooks and headquarters personnel, renewed attacks down the ridge leading to Hill 420, also without success.
Col. O'Brien was now well aware that the likelihood of breaking through to the surrounded companies was slim. He instituted plans to resupply the hilltops by airdrop on the following day.

2nd Battalion, 411th Infantry (103rd Infantry Division), was attached to the regiment .and moved into the area late in the day. Plans for the next day remained uninspired and fixed on relieving the trapped companies by seizure of Hills 363 and 390. 2nd Battalion, 411th Infantry, was ordered to attack Hill 363, then seize Hill 390 and then attack down its eastern ridge to the valley above Reybach. E/179 and F/179 would demonstrate by feigning an attack, and all other units were to fire all weapons in a further effort to confuse the Germans as to the actual main attack.

20 January

Three times 2nd Battalion, 411th Infantry, attacked over Hill 415, heading for Hill 363, the last assault under cover of a blinding snowstorm. All attacks were thwarted.
Airdrop of supplies to the surrounded companies was attempted in the morning, but the drops were made "blind" because of the snowstorm and no supplies reached the men.

Early in the afternoon the Germans sent a party under a white flag to give a message to the American commander of the surrounded troops: Further resistance is futile; surrender by five o'clock or suffer the consequences. While Capt. Curtis, the senior officer in the surrounded group, pondered his options, division ordered regiment to make plans to withdraw during the night to prepared defensive positions farther to the r ear, as part of a general withdrawal by the Seventh Army.

As soon as Col. O'Brien received this order, he made a last effort to save his surrounded men. He ordered the trapped companies to conduct a breakout attack along the Hill 401 - Hill 420 ridge at 1530 hours. At the same time all other units were to fire all weapons into the air for three minutes to confuse the Germans.

The trapped companies made an effort to execute the breakout attack but were inundated by both friendly and enemy artillery fire and then swarmed by the Germans. Only two men, both from I Company, made it through to the rear area. Early in the evening, once it was evident that no more men would escape the hills, 2nd Battalion, 411th Infantry, was released from attachment and withdrew. The remaining units withdrew during the night and the following day.

Losses to the Regiment and its attachments during the period 12 - 20 January amounted to 158 killed, more than 350 evacuated for wounds, injuries and illness, and 426 men captured (many of them wounded.)


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