443rd AAA Bn in World War II

RHINELAND CAMPAIGN

COLMAR OPERATION

Click on map to view larger imageThe exhausted 36th Division was committed to action to clean up Colmar. The rapid enemy retreat from Ribeauville and the hills dominating Colmar greatly worried the German High Command with the result that large reinforcements were brought in to face the 36th Division. On 12 December a major assault was launched against the 141st Regiment on the Division’s right. The enemy force included an entire German officer candidate school determined to turn the 36th Division’s flank and cut the Ribeauville-St. Marie road. The 36th units were initially encircled but, in hand-to-hand combat and using every available man, the 2nd Battalion of the 141st pushed the enemy back. Meanwhile another enemy unit moved around the 2nd Battalion to assault Riquewihr and the Regimental CP. The undermanned two and one half companies of the exhausted 1st Battalion, in reserve, counterattacked and reestablished Division positions.

443rd Batteries were immediately notified to be alert for infiltrating enemy patrols. About noon on 12 December an urgent message from 36th Division G-3 asked for 443rd help in repulsing an expected attack on Scherwiller by 250 German infantrymen reported in the vicinity of Selestat. The Division at this time had absolutely no reserves and infantry companies were down to half or less of their normal strength. The left flank of the Division ended at Scherwiller just west of Selestat. The nearest 443rd unit was Platoon D-2, on road defense at the time and in reserve for such emergencies. But at the time it was out of radio contact since it was moving its positions. Capt. Fisher, S-3, immediately drove to where Platoon D-2 was moving into its new positions, and convoyed the platoon to the eastern edge of Scherwiller, ready to repulse the expected German attack. Arrival of a French armored column from the northwest, several hours later, apparently ended the enemy’s attack plans. The 36th Division’s left flank was finally secure.

But the situation along the 36th Division’s front continued to grow more serious under persistent and ferocious enemy counterattacks. One result was that 443rd gun-tracks were resited to fire on any enemy breakthrough from the east or the southwest. On 12 December the 142nd’s 1st Battalion, supported by tanks and tank destroyers, attacked Selestat and pushed the enemy out. With concentrated artillery fire the city was held against a strong evening counterattack. Around 7 pm the same day a strong enemy patrol attacked 141st Regimental CP and 133rd Field Artillery positions at Riquewihr with bazookas, machine guns, automatic pistols and small arms. One gun and its ammunition was blown up and a nearby home set afire by a bazooka hit. Platoon D-1 gun-track driver called for two of his crew to cover him, while he crawled 50 yards over exposed terrain, illuminated by flares and swept by small arms fire, to his gun-track, loaded the four machine guns and repeatedly "hosed" the area from which the German attackers were firing. The enemy ran for cover. Prisoners captured indicated that the patrol’s intention was to put the gun-track out of action so they could destroy the artillery guns and cut the road by blowing up a bridge. This action, if it had succeeded, would have put two batteries of artillery out of action and cut off most of the infantry units in the sector. On 13 December Platoon C-1 fired 1600 rounds of .50 cal. in a night mission near Zellenberg, harassing an enemy supply route, bridge and mortar positions. Upon request of the 36th Division G-3 the 443rd’s S-3 ordered platoon officers to coordinate the defense of Mittelwihr, as the situation worsened, with the 143rd Regimental Commander. Platoon D-3 had its ammunition trailer blown up by artillery fire. Strong enemy counterattacks continued but were repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy. But German infantry continued to infiltrate Division positions. These powerful enemy attacks along the Division’s front narrowly missed succeeding. Even German air was seen and Platoons B-1 and B-2 destroyed an ME-109 near Rorschwihr. But by 15 December the German attack ceased. The enemy intention of breaking through the 36th Division had failed and a terrific casualty toll had been exacted. At least 6,800 infantry were brought across the Rhine for the enemy effort. They included elements of three divisions already protecting the sector plus seven battalions of young and well-trained officer candidates, and SS Non-Com troops under Himmler’s personal command. The attackers suffered over 1,300 casualties and 1,360 were taken prisoner. But by 24 December the 36th Division and the 443rd had been in combat for 133 consecutive days. On that day it was relieved from combat by the 3rd Division and enjoyed five brief days patrolling relatively quiet Strasbourg. The average rifle company strength had dropped to 94 and, unable to train replacements, the Division efficiency was rapidly falling. Nevertheless, on Christmas Day, the Americans with the 36th Division gave a Christmas Party for the children of the Strasbourg Orphanage.

By attaching one gun section to each infantry battalion, the 443rd moved to provide maximum ground and air support to the 36th Division along the Rhine River at Strasbourg. Gun section #4 of Platoon B-1, with the 2nd Battalion, 143rd Regiment, fired on enemy positions across the Rhine River. The 443rd CP moved to Eckbolsheim, a northern suburb of Strasbourg. This relief from combat would only last a few days. But on 25 December the 36th moved to the Sarrebourg vicinity for real rest and recuperation. During its 133 days in combat, the Division had taken 19,751 prisoners and killed or wounded an even greater number of the enemy. Commendation was received from 7th Army Commander General Patch and the Division received Christmas Greetings from its former commander, General Walker. All units were busy training replacements, and rehabilitating weapons and equipment in preparation for the next action. And even with winter’s snow covering the ground, all personnel celebrated New Year’s Eve with refreshments and song.

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