Riquewihr and the Colmar Pocket
|The 142nd Infantry, however, having shifted north, had broken through the St. Marie
Pass and out into the Alsace Plain. Divisional operations called for a build up of
strength to be poured through the opening that had been forged. On the 7th of December we
climbed onto trucks and drove up and down the circuitous roads that hugged the snow
covered mountain sides, through the St. Marie Pass, out into the Alsace Plain. The 1st
Battalion went first to Selestat to garrison the town. The 3rd Battalion moved to
Bergheim, where the regimental command post was set up. Then the 2nd Battalion continued
on farther south to Hunawihr where it was attached to the 143rd Infantry and alerted to
stop a German attack on a hill just north of the Kientzheim-Sigolsheim road, later known
so well to the men of E and G Companies as bloody 393. It was a strange naked feeling to
look out across the open Alsace Plain after months of nothing but high forested mountains
ahead of us. The panoramic view of level vine covered land stretching for miles around
gave us a feeling of exposure that made us a bit uneasy like strangers just
arriving in a foreign land. Here was the region of the famous Rhenish vineyards where
every town was a wine town abounding in spacious, well constructed wine cellars. These
large underground shelters were later to become greatly appreciated as much for the
excellence of their structure as for their contents. As we came out into this great plain,
little did we think that we were entering into a period of historic fighting that would
rank along side of Salerno, San Pietro, the Rapido and Montélimar.
Just before dark on the 7th of December those of us in the 2nd Battalion marched south out of Hunawihr to the little town of Riquewihr, heading to relieve elements of the 143rd Infantry on the high ground ahead. We had little idea of the bitter fighting that was in store for everyone in the regiment. All that seemed to occupy our minds as we moved into position was the cold drizzling rain that drenched the night. Actually we were being rushed forward to assist in holding two dominating terrain features finger-like projections of the Vosges Mountains that covered the entrance to the St. Marie Pass and dominated the northern approaches to Colmar. The importance of this ground and other adjacent high ridges to the enemy was soon seen by the two weeks of savage battle that followed. Few towns in Alsace are still vivid in our minds, but none of us who participated in the fighting during this period will forget Riquewihr, Sigolsheim, Kientzheim or Kaysersberg, nor hills such as 393, 351 or 621. To those of us who were up on these scrub-brush covered hills the Riquewihr area means days and nights of ceaseless enemy artillery and mortar shells crashing all around us, continuous enemy assaults, unforgettable bayonet charges, close-in fighting with the enemy on all sides of us, and the bodies of enemy dead surrounding our mud soaked foxholes. Here was all the hellishness of war concentrated in one area war as only the front line dogfoot can know and understand it, stripped of its glamour and exposed as the real nightmare that it is.
Yet, as early as the 9th of December it appeared as though the enemy's ability to threaten the important high ridges could promptly be destroyed. On the 8th of December, coinciding with the regimental command post's move into Riquewihr, the 1st Battalion was moved forward from Selestat, preparatory to attacking the forward slopes of Hill 351 the following morning in a coordinated attack with the 2nd Battalion, which was to seize the forward slopes of Hill 393. Both battalions reached their objectives on the forward slopes of the hills. On Hill 351, however, friendly TD fire hit into the middle of Company B, causing 25 casualties and disorganizing the company. Company A, which had gone down the forward slope of the hill, met heavy short range self-propelled fire. In order to secure cover the company charged into Sigolsheim, never to return. Meanwhile the 2nd Battalion attack wag slowed up by a strong German assault preceded by heavy artillery and mortar barrages. The main enemy effort struck at E and G Companies. Fierce fighting raged for more than an hour as the 2nd Battalion men used rifle grenades, hand grenades and every available weapon to hold off the fanatical forces, many of which charged up to their holes with bayonets. Gradually the Germans were pushed back and E and G Companies went into the attack, advancing over the bodies of the enemy dead. Five M4 tanks were called up and the men battled their way down the forward slopes of Hill 393 to the outskirts of Kientzheim. Here the advance slowed down. F Company, entirely occupied by a strong enemy force in the Bois De Kientzheim, was unable to reinforce the attacking companies. G Company's Commanding Officer was seriously wounded, slightly disorganizing the unit. As sufficient strength to press on into Kientzheim was lacking, and since the barren, vine covered frontal slopes of Hill 393 offered no suitable position for defense, the battalion was forced to move back to the reverse slopes. We had come close to seizing one of the enemy's bases of operation.
Copyright © 1945, 1998 141st Infantry Regiment