Losheim Gap

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Losheim Gap
Part of Battle of the Bulge
Belgium crossroads battle of the bulge.gif
American dead at a crossroads in Honsfeld, Belgium, at the northern end of the Losheim Gap
Date 16 December 1944
Location Büllingen, Belgium
50°24′17″N 6°16′05″E / 50.40472°N 6.26806°E / 50.40472; 6.26806Coordinates: 50°24′17″N 6°16′05″E / 50.40472°N 6.26806°E / 50.40472; 6.26806
Result German tactical victory
Belligerents
United States United States Germany Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
United States Omar Bradley
United States Alan W. Jones
Germany Sepp Dietrich
Strength
U.S. 106th Infantry Division (elements of), 14th Cavalry Group (elements of)
Total strength: 5,000 men, 20 light tanks, 12 medium tanks
1st SS Panzer Division, 2nd SS Panzer Division
Total strength: 25,000+ infantry, 200+ Panzers and SPGs
Casualties and losses
450 killed
1,000+ wounded
2,300 captured
32 tanks
200 killed
300 wounded
10-12 armored vehicles

The Losheim Gap is a 5 miles (8.0 km) long, narrow valley at the western foot of the Schnee Eifel, on the border of Belgium and Germany. Most accounts of World War II describing the Battle of the Bulge focus on the attack by the Germans around the Siege of Bastogne and the Battle of St. Vith, while the Germans' primary ambitions were actually anchored in taking the Losheim Gap. In this region of the border between Belgium and Germany, it is the only region conducive to military movement.[1]

In 1944, "Operation Wacht am Rhein" (Watch on the Rhine) was planned by Hitler to trade space for time by an attack which would advance through the Allied armies to Antwerp. This would be through the Ardennes, a region that had long fascinated Hitler, where German armies had attacked with tremendous success in 1914 and again, at Hitler’s personal instigation, in 1940 .... (but not also, as is often erroneously remarked, in 1870. That advance was from the Saar-Palatinate through the Wissembourg Gap into Alsace).[2]

Strategic importance[edit]

During 1940 when the Germans invaded Belgium and then France, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s division sped through the Losheim Gap to gain the Meuse River and then push onto the English Channel. Hitler held similar hopes for 1944.[1]

During the Battle of the Bulge, some of the best German units,[3] including the 3rd Fallschirmjaeger Division and Sixth Panzer Army planned to assault northwest over the Losheim-Losheimergraben road and along the railroad tracks through the Losheim Gap in force. towards the twin villages of Rocherath and Krinkelt but were held up by the broken railroad overpasses.

Led by the 1st SS Panzer division, they planned to attack the[4] 2nd and the 99th Infantry Division with the goal of capturing Losheimergraben and gaining access to the vital road network to its north and west that would allow them to capture the important port of Antwerp. Mostly untried U.S. troops succeeded in severely limiting the German's advance, halting them at Elsenborn Ridge for most of the first day of the battle.[3]

Lanzerath, a village of about 15 homes, lay about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) to the east of Losheim. The area was on the border between U.S. VIII Corps to the south and U.S. V Corps was the responsibility of a single Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon of 18 men and Task Force X, a tank destroyer platoon of 55 men. In a calculated risk, the Allies had only a few men stretched very thinly across a wide area.[1] The German forces were located on the eastern edge of the Losheim Gap in Losheim and further east. The Siegfried Line between them divided the Losheim Gap.

During their earlier retreat, the Germans had destroyed two key railroad overpasses which they planned to repair on the first day of the counterattack. The 5th Panzer Army was given the task of capturing St. Vith and the vital road and rail network it controlled.

Dietrich's plan was for the 6th SS Panzer Army to advance east through Lanzerath and Bucholz Station and then drive 72 miles (116 km) through Honsfield and Büllingen. The infantry would continue north through Losheimergraben to push the 2nd and 99th Divisions out of the way. This would allow the 12th SS Panzer Division to advance eastward towards a group of villages named Trois-Ponts, connect to Belgian Route Nationale N-23, and cross the River Meuse. It was then another 53 miles (85 km) to Antwerp.[5]:70

On December 17, German engineers repaired one of the road bridges over the railroad along the Losheim-Losheimergraben road and the 12th Division German armor began advancing towards the key road junction at Losheimergraben.

The Losheim Gap was also the origin of another key route from Germany into Belgium. The 18th Volksgrenadier Division under the command of Generalmajor Günther Hoffmann-Schönborn patrolled the Schnee Eifel area. On December 16 at 4:00 a.m., they took the twenty-two foot macadam road route following the Our River valley towards Manderfield. The route terminated at several vital crossroads in the city of St. Vith. The 5th Panzer Army planned to bypass St. Vith to the north.[1]

Advance delayed[edit]

The northern shoulder of the Battle of the Bulge, in which Bouck's unit held up the German advance through a key intersection near Lanzerath for nearly a full day.

On the German side of the Siegfried Line, the Germans positioned their troops and armor around and to the east of the village of Losheim. On December 16, 1944, at 5:30 a.m., the Germans launched a 90-minute artillery barrage using 1,600 artillery pieces[6] across an 80 miles (130 km) front.

The infantry of the 9th Fallschirmjaeger Regiment, 3rd Fallschirmjaeger Division led the way through the Losheim Gap, tasked with clearing American resistance along the main line of advance. To spare the armor, they operated in advance of Kampfgruppe SS Standartenführer Joachim Peiper's 1st SS Panzer Division, the spearhead of SS Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army. The infantry would then secure the right flank of the attack route near Losheimergraben.

The 12th Volksgrenadier Division reached Losheimgraben at 7:00 a.m. East of Losheim, Kampfgruppe Peiper expected to reach Losheimgraben by 8:00 a.m., but the tanks were held up for most of the morning of December 16 on the Blankenheim-Schnied road which was congested with horse-drawn artillery, infantrymen, and numerous other vehicles. Peiper himself tried to sort out the mess at one crossroads. For unknown reasons German engineers did not begin repairing the first of the railroad overpasses on the Losheim-Losheimergraben road until nearly noon, and the second was not repaired until December 17.

When Peiper got word that the overpass would not be repaired in time for his advance, he chose to move west through Lanzerath. He was frustrated and angry that the 9th Fallschirmjaeger Regiment had yet to report that the road was clear. The 500 troops of the 1st Battalion, 9th Fallschirmjaeger Regiment, 3rd Fallschirmjaeger Division were held up for most of the day by 18 men of the 394th Intelligence and Reconnaissance Squads of the 99th Infantry Division at Lanzerath Ridge. At 6:00 pm, Peiper finally learned that the village had been secured. His column of 117 tanks, 149 half-tracks, 18 105mm guns and 6 150mm guns, totaling 600 vehicles, finally moved forward. He was further held up when his tanks struck two of their own minefields, slowing progress while the engineers cleared the fields ahead of mines.[7]

Piper finally arrived in Lanzerath near midnight only to find the infantry bedding down for the night. Every officer he spoke to said the woods were full of Americans and tanks. He furiously interrogated the infantry officers to learn if any patrols into the woods had been conducted and learned that no one had personally reconnoitered the area. Disgusted, Peiper demanded that Oberst Helmut von Hoffman, commander of the 9th Parachute Regiment, give him a battalion of paratroops to accompany his tanks. At 4:30 a.m. on December 17, more than 16 hours behind schedule, the 1st SS Panzer Division rolled out of Lanzerath with a battalion of paratroopers preceding them and headed east for Bucholz Station.

Advance towards Hünningen[edit]

Main article: Malmedy massacre

At Bucholz Station, the 3rd Battalion of the U.S. 394th Infantry Regiment was surprised and quickly captured, except for a headquarters company radio operator. Hidden in a cellar, he called in reports to division headquarters until he was finally captured. Driving east, the Germans entered Honsfield, where they encountered one of the 99th Division's rest centers, clogged with confused American troops. They killed many and destroyed a number of American armored units and vehicles. Peiper easily captured the town and 50,000 US gallons (190,000 l; 42,000 imp gal) of fuel for his vehicles.[8] He then advanced towards Büllingen, keeping to the plan to move east, apparently unaware he had nearly taken the town and unknowingly bypassing an opportunity to flank and trap the entire 2nd and 99th Division.[6]:31 Peiper suddenly turned south to detour around Hünningen, interested only in getting back onto his assigned Rollbahn.[6] Kampfgruppe Peiper a few days later gained notoriety for their murder of U.S. prisoners of war in what became known as the Malmedy massacre.

Losheimergraben attack[edit]

Losheimergraben Germany

The task of defeating the 99th Division was the objective of 12th SS Panzer Division reinforced by additional Panzergrenadier and Volksgenadier divisions. On December 17, German engineers repaired one of the road bridges over the railroad along the Losheim-Losheimergraben road and the 12th Division German armor began advancing towards the key road junction at Losheimergraben and the twin villages of Rocherath and Krinkelt. However, in more than ten days of intense battle, they were unable to dislodge the Americans from Elsenborn Ridge, where elements of the V Corps of the First U.S. Army prevented the German forces from reaching the road network to their west.

The German advance never recovered from its initial delay, and the Sixth Panzer Army only got as far as La Gleize before its advance stalled out, advancing less than half-way to the River Meuse.[6] The remaining soldiers were left to find their own way back to the east.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Judge, Col. David A. (June 16, 2000). "Cavalry in the Gap". Centre de Recherches et d'Informations sur la Bataille des Ardennes. Retrieved August 21, 2010. 
  2. ^ MacDonald, Charles B. (1984). The Battle of the Bulge. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London. p. 22. ISBN 0-297-78389-0. 
  3. ^ a b Wijers, Hans (November 1, 2009). "The Battle of the Bulge: The Losheim Gap / Holding the Line". Stackpole Military History Series (Stackpole Books). p. 488. ISBN 0811735923. 
  4. ^ Judge, Col. David J. (June 16, 2000). "Cavalry in the Gap". 
  5. ^ Kershaw, Alex (October 30, 2005). The Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge And the Epic Story of World War II's Most Decorated Platoon. De Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81440-4. 
  6. ^ a b c d Quarrie, Bruce (1999). "The Ardennes Offensive: VI Panzer Armee". Osprey Order of Battle Series. Osprey Publishing. 
  7. ^ "The Leibstandarte in the Battle of the Bulge". World War II, Analyzed. Retrieved August 20, 2010. 
  8. ^ Ralph E. Hersko, Jr. (November 1998). "Battle of the Bulge: U.S. Troops Fight at Elsenburn Ridge". HistoryNet.com. Retrieved 2010-07-14.