May 3, 2014

Task Force Abrams Attacks a Fortified Position in the Saar

After the fall of Metz, Patton began his massive assault on the Saar basin. He used his entire army of six infantry and three armored divisions in a steamroller attack, which pressed back the Germans a few miles each day, along a front extending from Luxemburg in the north to the foothills of the Vosges Mountains in the south.


U.S. Third Army front
1. U.S. Third Army front on December 5, 1944.



The Saar offensive was made under the worst possible weather conditions. Every day it rained. The tanks got stuck in the mud, where they had to await special trucks with winches to drag them out. But the advance went on; by the end of November, Patton had reached the Saar and the German frontier. All the great industrial cities of the Saar were now within his grasp.

The Plan 
Creighton Abrams
2. “Where Col. Abrams is, that spot is likely 
to be the farthest point of US armored 
penetration into Germany” Life magazine.

The city of Sarreguemines was assigned to the XII Corps. According to its plan the 35th Infantry Division was to attack frontally, while the 4th Armored Division was to maneuver around the city and capture the high ground north of Rohrbach (Rohrbach-lès-Bitche), thus cutting off Sarreguemines from the east.

Two villages stood between the 4th Armored Division and Rohrbach; Bining and Singling. Because of the terrain configuration any attacker coming from the south had to come up east of Singling and then make a ninety-degree turn towards Bining, exposing dangerously its flank. Singling had to be occupied or neutralized. But Singling had one peculiarity. It had been specially built as a fortress because it had been part of the Maginot Line. The houses had reinforced concrete walls and pillboxes were guarding the entrances to the town.

The 4th Armored Division decided on a three pronged attack for 6 December 1944. The main effort would be made by Task Force (TF) Abrams

TF Abrams was composed of: 
  • the 37th Tank Battalion, 
  • the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion, 
  • the 94th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (FAB), 
  • and Company B of the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
TF Abrams was to take Bining and Rohrbach, while Combat Command B (CCB) was to take Singling, covering Abrams left flank. 


4th Armored Division’s plan for the attack on 6 December
3. The plan for the attack on 6 December.


Team B
M4A3 fitted with a short-barreled 105mm howitzer
4. M4A3 was fitted with a short-barreled 105mm
howitzer to function as a close support weapon.

After preparatory artillery fire TF Abrams advanced towards its objective. Due to the flooded terrain CCB was far behind and provided no cover. Soon the leading elements of TF Abrams had been pinned under direct and indirect fire from Singling. Abrams decided to capture Singling with part of his force, while the rest would continue as planned.

The job was assigned to Team B, an armor – infantry group, composed of Companies B of the 37th Tank Battalion and the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion. Captain James H. Leach and First Lieutenant Daniel M. Belden were the respective company commanders. Team B had 14 tanks, one of which was a 105mm-Sherman, and 57 infantrymen


The attack on Singling
5. Company A, at the head of TF Abrams becomes immobilized.
Team B attacks Singling, while Company A covers the road to Bining.

Captain Leach deployed his tank platoons as follows:
  • 2nd Platoon, Second Lieutenant James N. Farese, on the left;
  • 1st Platoon, First Lieutenant William F. Goble, on the right
  • 3rd Platoon, First Lieutenant Robert M. Cook, in support.
At 10:15 hours, after a brief artillery preparation Captain Leach’s Shermans advanced toward Singling and fired on the move. The enemy in the town was not responding.

The Enemy

The elusive enemy at Singling was the 1st Battalion of 111th Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment of 11th Panzer-Division. The Battalion was supported by two StuG III assault guns and three Panther tanks. The defenders at Singling could also count on one tank company held in reserve, north of the village.


Singling (northwest) and Bining (east)
6. Modern view of the area between Singling (northwest) and Bining (east). 
The Americans were attacking from the southwest.

Entering Singling - the Infantry

South of Singling the infantry dismounted and deployed for the attack.
  • 3rd platoon, Second Lieutenant William P. Cowgill was to take the left side of the town;
  • 1st Platoon, Second Lieutenant Theodore R. Price was to take the right side
  • 2nd Platoon, First Lieutenant Norman C. Padgett was to advance behind the 3rd platoon
Lieutenants Cowgill and Padgett moved ahead of their platoons. Behind them eleven Germans surrendered to 1st Platoon’s men.  At about the same time 2nd Platoon’s 2nd squad arrested thirty Germans in a cellar.


The fight in Singling
7. The tank platoons enter Singling. The infantry, in the southeastern part, deals with the surrendering Germans. Lt. Cowgill approaches building No. 44.

Singling
8. Modern view of Singling.

Entering Singling


As the tanks approached the town, the 1st and 2nd Platoons swung east and west respectively, and the 3rd Platoon lined up with them.

Western Sector

2nd Platoon Leader,Lt. Farese with his tank was behind a stone farmyard wall when it was hit by three armor piercing shells and was set on fire. Farese and his loader were killed. The other tanks of the platoon (S/ Sgt. Sowers, Sgt. Parks and Sgt. Hauptman) remained in defilade. Northwest of them were two pillboxes, a stone house and a stone barn. A tank or an antitank gun was probably concealed close to any one of them. 


The fight in Singling
9. Lt. Farese is hit. An enemy StuG is found beside No. 44. It escapes. 
Lt Cook’s tanks get inside a walled garden.  

Central Sector

Lt. Cowgill, while approaching the town centre, spotted an enemy StuG beside building No. 44. The StuG commander, whose head was out of the turret, received small arms fire and moved his vehicle towards the west end of the town.

Cpt. Leach placed his tank between buildings No.6 and No. 7 and ordered Lt. Cook to get the escaping StuG. Cook’s platoon (including the 105mm-Sherman) was maneuvering inside the town. Visibility was poor because of thick clouds of smoke coming from burning buildings. One by one Cook’s tanks entered a walled garden.

Eastern Sector

Lt. Goble’s tanks had taken positions in the east end of the town. Sgt. Sandrock separated from his Platoon and went with Cpt. Leach.


The fight in Singling
10. Lt. Goble’s tanks took positions in an orchard, in the eastern end of the town.

More Tanks and More POWs
Saint Donatus chapel
11. Saint Donatus chapel, Singling.


Lt. Cowgill reached No. 10 building and from there he saw two enemy StuGs further west. They could fire at anything moving on the main street. Cpt. Leach was informed and ordered his 2nd Platoon to attack the enemy AFVs from the rear. 2nd Platoon tankers found out that whenever they moved even a few feet forward they received destructive fire, so they remained in their position.

To the north twelve Germans surrendered to men of the 3rd Infantry Platoon, while in the eastern end of the village Lt. Padgett, from No. 39 building, spotted seven enemy tanks to the northeast.

Tank Hunting


Back at the town’s center Cpt. Leach decided to take on the enemy StuG’s with infantry bazookas. Furthermore he was informed of the presence of three Panther tanks 200 yards away from the StuGs. A bazooka team was set up with the two available weapons. The plan was to fire at the enemy AFVs from the attic of building No. 12.


The fight in Singling
12. Lt. Cowgill got as far as No. 17. The enemy StuG was engaged from the attic of No. 12. 
Three enemy tanks were seen at the west end of the town.

When the bazooka team was in place only one StuG was there. Five rounds were fired against it and they all missed, except one that caused minor damages. Hardly that had happened when building No. 12 started receiving tank fire. The Germans were counterattacking.

The German Counterattack
11th Panzer-Division
13. Logo of the 
11th Panzer-Division.


After a brief but intense artillery preparation the German reserve force attacked. 

In the western sector Sgt. Hauptman’s tank was hit. In the central sector Hayward's tank was knocked out. In the eastern sector Fitzgerald destroyed two Panthers, but Lt. Goble’s tank was hit and burned.

The tank platoons retreated and concentrated southwest of the town’s center. 





Relief


Colonel Abrams was ordered by Brigadier General Herbert L. Earnest, CCA commander, to turn over Singling to CCB. Team B would be relieved by Company C of the 8th Tank Battalion and Company B of the 10th Armored Infantry Battalion.

Due to some misunderstanding the relief Team approached Singling under the impression that there was no enemy. The loss of a tank made clear to the newcomers that this was not the case. The Company commanders of both Teams met at building No. 28 and agreed upon the details of the relieving process.

Later on it was decided that the new Team was not adequate to hold Singling for the night and it was withdrawn. Within five minutes of the report that Singling was clear of friendly troops, Corps artillery put a heavy concentration on the town. 

Singling was finally taken on December 10.


Bibliography
Forty, George. Tank Aces – From Blitzkrieg to the Gulf War. Gloucestershire: Sutton, 1997.
U.S. War Department – Historical Division. Small Unit Actions. 1946. Reprint. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, U.S. Army, 1991.
Wellard, James. General George S. Patton, Jr.- Man Under Mars. New York: Dodd Mead & Company, 1946.
Wietersheim, Wend, Generalleutnant. "11th Panzer Division (28 Oct – 17 Dec 1944)." Draft translation by A. Rosenwald. Mimeographed. U.S. Army, Europe, Historical Division, 1946. MS # B-416.


Photos attribution
1., 3., 5., 7., 9., 10., 12. CMH Pub 100-14
2. scan da 'Lorraine 1944' di S.J.Zaloga, Osprey publ. 2000, via Wikimedia Commons
4. Sustructu, GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons
6. Imagery © 2014 DigitalGlobe, Ones/Spot Image, Map data © 2014 Google
8. Imagery © 2014 DigitalGlobe, Map data © 2014 Google
11. Wikimedia Commons
13. Marco Kaiser, via Wikimedia Commons


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