443rd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion in World War II

ARDENNES - ALSACE CAMPAIGN

Click on the map to view a larger imageAt midnight on New Year’s Eve, when presumably Allied troops were celebrating, the German High Command launched a major offensive in the Bitche sector with intent to advance to the Severne Gap, take Strasbourg and possibly all of Alsace. The attack was planned because the 7th Army line was very thin and extended as a result of having to move troops to contain the German forces in the Ardennes breakthrough. General Von Runstedt’s offensive into Belgium was thus forced to peak on 24 December and the Germans felt that a major offensive in the 7th Army area would reduce the movement of additional troops to Belgium. The 36th Division was alerted to be prepared to move to counter enemy parachute drops expected in the XV or VI Corps sectors.

On New Year’s Day the 141st Regiment moved quickly 40 miles from Sarrebourg to fill a gap on the right of the 100th Division through which enemy were filtering on the VI Corps left flank and aiming toward Montbronn. The 142nd was put on immediate alert and the balance of the 36th Division went on a six hour alert as training continued. Division units found the local citizenry in fear with wild gossip about the Germans returning. Since infiltrating Germans sometimes wore Allied uniforms their apprehensions were given more credence.

By 3 January the rest of the Division had moved along the frozen road to Montbronn in snow flurries and cold. The 36th organized a secondary defensive line several miles behind the line being held — something it had never had to do before but which the Germans had been forced to do many times. However, the enemy failed to break through Allied lines at Montbronn.

During a brief respite from enemy attacks, Lt. Col. Larson enjoyed a five day leave at the 36th Division’s rest camp at Bains-le-Bains where hotels had been set up for both officers and enlisted men. Major Lazur was in command of the Battalion during Larson’s absence. Upon his return, Lt. Col. Larson sent the following commendation to officers and men of the 443rd:

"I wish to express my appreciation for your untiring efforts and devotion to duty during the campaign in France. As a result of your energy and enthusiasm, in carrying out the recent operations, you have added another remarkable performance to the Battalion’s brilliant record in the protection and support of the 36th Division. During the landing in Southern France, in the rapid northward drive through the Rhone Valley and in the constant push and drive from Besancon to Bruyeres, you have demonstrated your characteristic, aggressive spirit. Because of your courage and determination, you have been able to carry on the fight in the rain and mud from Bruyeres through Corcieux to Wissembach, in the breakthrough of St. Marie and Ribeauville Pass and in the gruelling, harassing push toward Colmar. Your versatility and stamina have been put to the test in the defensive positions along the Rhine River near Strasbourg and in the relief and attacks in the Haguenau sector with the VI Corps.

"Even though you have been confronted with the worst possible conditions of rain, mud, cold and snow, you have always performed your duties in an outstanding manner. Enemy planes have been few but you have maintained a constant vigil, searching the sky for hostile planes diving out of the sun or coming in low over tree tops or hill masses. In addition, particularly when air activity was at a minimum, you have unhesitatingly assisted the 36th Division in its attacks, defensive missions and patrols, by your harassing and diversionary ground firing missions.

"In a defensive role you have played a particularly important part in breaking up and routing a large enemy infiltration which threatened to cut off one of the Division’s main supply routes in Ribeauville Pass and also in the destruction of a low-flying enemy reconnaisance plane over Rorschwihr as well as in the hasty displacement of your guns to the vicinity of Scherwiller in order to prevent the enemy infantry from cutting the Division’s other supply route, where you showed yourself capable of rising to any emergency.

"You are now engaged in an intensive training program which includes the reconditioning of your weapons and equipment for the final, smashing drive into the heart of Germany. In this, the final phase of the European War, I am confident that each of you will continue to maintain that splendid ‘esprit de corps’ that has made the 443rd Antiaircraft Battalion an outstanding organization.

Werner L. Larson, Lt. Col., Commanding

No further enemy air attacks occurred until 13 January when Platoon B-1 engaged the first Jet-propelled plane yet seen — an ME-163. No hit was scored. Other German assaults in the Bitche area were repulsed and the enemy began to withdraw. But then a large enemy force backed by considerable armor crossed the Rhine in the Gambsheim-Herrlisheim area, just north of Strasbourg. It quickly expanded its bridgehead, threatening Strasbourg. During 12-14 January the 12th U.S. Armored Division attacked the bridgehead but was defeated with heavy casualties. The 79th Division, east and north of Hagenau became exhausted under repeated enemy attacks. To counter the expanding German bridgehead at Gambsheim-Herrlisheim, the 36th Division was ordered on 19 January to move the 80 miles to Haguenau, just north of Gambsheim, to relieve the 12th Armored Division and eliminate the enemy bridgehead. Before the relief could be consummated German armor attacked east of Herrlisheim (with 20 tanks and 500 infantry) and over the Zorn Canal in a major breakthrough. However, the 143rd Regiment and other 36th Division reinforcements just arriving, stopped the enemy breakthrough. The Division’s 636th Tank Destroyer gunners carefully demolished six German tanks, the 133rd Field Artillery knocked out another while the 143rd’s 2nd Battalion counterattacked, destroying eight tanks and taking 176 prisoners of Germany’s best 10th SS Ranger Division. This rallied the 12th Armored Division which was falling back before the enemy onslaught. On 20-21 January VI Corps withdrew to a position hinging on Hagenau-Bischwiller where over twelve inches of snow covered the battlefield and sheets and whitewash were used to camouflage positions and equipment. 443rd gun crews went on special night air raid alert for three nights, since intelligence had indicated the possibility of night air attacks as well as a parachute drop. During the morning of 21 January two enemy attacks were repulsed by the 36th Division. And on 23 January 443rd Platoons B-1, B-2, C-1 and D-1 engaged two ME-262 jet planes bombing and strafing the Division area. No results were evident. Soon thereafter Platoon C-1 fired at a flight of ME-262s and sent one away trailing smoke. Several air raids occurred this same day, one using ME-l09Es. Hits on the planes’ fuselage were seen but they seemed to bounce off the ME-262 jets. Three 443rd men were wounded by bomb fragments. It was discovered that the ME-262 jet planes had multi-layered skin which made them less vulnerable to MA fire and their higher speeds exceeded the capabilities of 443rd sighting and aiming systems. The jets flew at a normal speed of 530 mph and dived at 600 mph. Immediate instruction was initiated to familiarize 443rd gun crews with the dimensions of this new challenge — especially demands for greater leads when firing and for early warning. The ME-262 was painted blue underneath and a mottled green on top, leading to a deceptive appearance.

During the night of 25-26 January one gun section each from Batteries A and B fired on enemy troop concentrations in Rohrwiller in support of the 142nd Regiment as it raided nearby Oberhofen.

On 26 January, 36th Division Commander General Dahlquist phoned 443rd S-3 Fisher to request four to six gun-tracks to fire night diversionary fire while the 142nd Regiment attacked at another point. During the night of 28-29 January, an M-15 from Platoon B-2 provided diversionary fire on enemy positions to screen patrol activity by the 142nd. B-2 was then relieved by a gun section from Battery C.

German "Screaming Meemies" were again used during the campaign. They were about 8" in diameter and about 15" long and appeared to be fired electrically from multiple-mounted racks. A dozen exhaust holes at an angle to their bases provided forward propulsion and rotation, generated by an expanding liquid gas. Their slow rate of speed permitted a loud whistling to reach the ear well before the rocket did.

About this time Lt. Col. Larson was designated as 36th Division Security Officer.

The 36th Division began on the night of 31 January to reduce the German bridgehead at Herrlisheim. Oberhoffen, a small village north of Bischwiller, across the Moder River, was captured by the 142nd Regiment but enemy armor and infantry drove the Americans out of the town before they could build a bridge over the Moder and bring up their own armor. A Platoon A-1 gun section fired against dug in enemy troops near Offendorf, just south of Herrlisheim, in the face of heavy mortar and artillery fire. The gun-tracks drew so much counter-battery fire that they had to be withdrawn. The capture, then early loss of Oberhoffen, caused a 24 hour delay in the 36th Division’s planned assault on Rohrwiller, just north of the Moder River, and on Herrlishim to the south of the river. Bridging was finally put across the river at Oberhoffen and the 36th retook the town, pushing at once to the north and capturing Rohrwiller, after 12 days of fighting that yielded a large number of German prisoners. Four days of thawing weather had caused streams and canals to overflow and wash footbridges away at Bischwiller. But a treadway bridge, though covered by water, had enabled infantry to cross over 300 yards of soggy ground and through kneehigh water to their assembly area to attack Rohrwiller. The enemy was apparently oblivious to impending danger. Their radios were playing and freshly killed ducks and pigs were ready for cooking. Over 120 prisoners were taken with the town and two important bridges southeast of town. On 3 February the 143rd Regiment took Herrlisheim. In the face of steady pressure from the 36th Division, and to avoid encirclement, German forces withdrew east of the Moder and toward the Rhine River.

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