|Route of the Question Mark|
|(A) Saint Gerard to (B) Romsée (55 miles)|
7 to 11 September 1944
The shadows were growing long as five men from the Second Platoon, Troop B, 85th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, 5th U.S. Armored Division, V Corps, U.S. First Army, reached the west bank of the Our River. To cross and claim credit as the first patrol on German soil, their commander had told them, they would have to hurry. The men made only a hasty inspection before starting back. An hour later the report of their crossing was on the way up the chain of command. At 1805 on 11 September 1944, the report read, a patrol led by S. Sgt. Warner W. Holzinger crossed into Germany near the village of Stalzemburg, a few miles northeast of Vianden, Luxembourg.
Sergeant Holzinger's patrol preceded others only by a matter of hours. In early evening, a reinforced company of the 109th Infantry, 28th Division, crossed the Our on a bridge between Weiswampach, in the northern tip of Luxembourg, and the German village of Sevenig. Almost simultaneously, southeast of St. Vith, Belgium, a patrol from the 22nd Infantry, 4th Division, also crossed the Our near the village of Hemmeres. Men of this patrol spoke to civilians and, to provide proof of their crossing, procured a German cap, some currency, and a packet of soil.
On September 11, 1944, Colonel Lanham of the 22nd
(far left) tells General Barton (seated behind the wheel
of his jeep "Barton Buggy") of the crossing into Germany.
The crossing of the German border on 11 September was another strong draught contributing to a heady optimism with which Allied troops and their commanders were reeling. Operating along the Channel coast, the Canadians already had captured Dieppe and the 1st British Corps of the First Canadian Army was putting the finishing touches to the conquest of Le Havre. The Second British Army had overrun Brussels and Antwerp, the latter with its deepwater port facilities almost intact. The First Army had taken Liège and the city of Luxembourg. The Third Army in northeastern France was building up along the Moselle River and already had a bridgehead near the Lorraine city of Metz. Having successfully landed in southern France on 15 August, the two armies in the south soon would become part of a single western front. During 11 September a patrol from the Third Army made contact with French units from the south near Dijon.
Most of the fighting immediately preceding the crossing of the German border had been pursuit warfare. The Germans were on the run. Except for the Third Army, which had been handicapped for five days while bearing the brunt of a general transportation shortage and gasoline drought, the Allied drive had reached its zenith during the, period 1-11 September. During these eleven days the British had traveled approximately 250 miles, from the Seine River to the Belgian-Dutch border. The First U.S. Army had taken time out near Mons, Belgium, to bag about 25,000 Germans in a giant pocket and make an abrupt change in direction. Still, they had covered approximately 200 miles. By 11 September the Allies had reached a general line which pre-D-Day planners had expected would be gained about D Plus 330 (2 May 1945). The advance thus was far ahead of schedule, some 233 days.
A most encouraging feature of Allied success was that casualties had been lighter than expected. Exclusive of the forces in southern France, Allied casualties from 6 June to 11 September were 39,961 killed, 164,466 wounded, and 20,142 missing, a total of 224,569, or a little more than 10 percent of the total strength committed. Since the landings in Normandy, the Germans had lost approximately 300,000 men, while another 200,000 were penned in various redoubts.
Despite an acute shortage of ports, Allied build-up in men and matériel had been swift. By the afternoon of 11 September a cumulative total of 2,168,307 men and 460,745 vehicles had landed in Normandy. General Eisenhower, who had assumed direct operational command in the field on 1 September, controlled on the Continent 26 infantry divisions (including 1 airborne division) and 13 armored divisions (not including a number of cavalry groups and separate tank battalions). Of this total the British and Canadians had furnished 16 divisions (including 1 Polish armored division), while the Americans had provided 23 (including 1 French armored division).
As soon as General Eisenhower assumed direct command of the forces in southern France, he would gain 3 American infantry divisions (not including an airborne task force of approximately divisional size), 5 French infantry divisions, and 2 French armored divisions. The total for the Western Front would then be 35 infantry and 14 armored divisions. In addition, 2 U.S. and 2 British airborne divisions, 1 Polish airborne brigade, and a British air portable infantry division were in Supreme Headquarters reserve.
General Eisenhower's 49 divisions were opposed, theoretically, by about 48 infantry and 15 panzer-type divisions, plus several panzer brigades. As noted by Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, who on 5 September began a second tour as Oberbefehlshaber West (Commander in Chief West), these forces actually existed only on paper. While Allied units were close to full strength, hardly a German division was. Most had incurred severe losses in both men and equipment, and many were badly demoralized from constant defeat in the field. The equivalent of five divisions had been corralled in the Channel Islands and the coastal "fortresses." Rundstedt estimated that his forces were equivalent to about half the number of Allied divisions. Allied superiority in guns was at least 2½ to 1 and in tanks approximately 20 to 1.
The disparity between forces was less striking on the ground than in the air. Operating from bases in the United Kingdom and France were 5,059 American bombers, 3,728 American fighters, 5,104 combat aircraft of the Royal Air Force, and additional hundreds of miscellaneous types for reconnaissance, liaison, and transport. The enemy's one tactical air force in the West, the Third Air Force (Luftflotte 3), had only 573 serviceable aircraft of all types. In the entire Luftwaffe the Germans had only 4,507 serviceable planes, and most of these had to be retained within Germany to contest Allied strategic bombers.
Allied strategy, as expressed in pre-D-Day planning at Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), looked toward the ultimate objective of Berlin; but on the way the Allies wanted an economic objective, which, if captured, "would rapidly starve Germany of the means to continue the war." This was the Ruhr industrial area, the loss of which, together with Belgium and Holland, would deprive Germany of 65 percent of its production of crude steel and 56 percent of its coal. The widespread deployment of the Allied armies on 11 September reflected General Eisenhower's pre-D-Day decision to go after the Ruhr and Berlin on a broad front. Later to become known as the "broad front policy," this concept was not appreciably different from the time-tested military strategy of multiple parallel columns.
The true German situation was perhaps most aptly described by one of the few voices of caution raised on the Allied side during the halcyon days of pursuit. On 28 August the Third Army G-2 had put it this way:Despite the crippling factors of shattered communications, disorganization and tremendous losses in personnel and equipment, the enemy nevertheless has been able to maintain a sufficiently cohesive front to exercise an overall control of his tactical situation. His withdrawal, though continuing, has not been a rout or mass collapse. Numerous new identifications in contact in recent days have demonstrated clearly that, despite the enormous difficulties under which he is operating, the enemy is still capable of bringing new elements into the battle area and transferring some from other fronts ....
It is clear from all indications that the fixed determination of the Nazis is to wage a last-ditch struggle in the field at all costs. It must be constantly kept in mind that fundamentally the enemy is playing for time. Weather will soon be one of his most potent Allies as well as terrain, as we move east to narrowing corridors ....