Page 143


counterthrust across the Schnee Eifel range, a very small force from the 18th Volks Grenadier Replacement Battalion was reckoned a sufficient screen on the heights. The corps lacked a tank battalion and was assigned an assault gun brigade in its place. The corps artillery was deemed too weak to engage the Americans in a counterbattery duel at the outset of the attack, and in addition the Germans hoped to make early and deep penetrations by surprise; concerted artillery preparations prior to H-hour, then, were ruled out. Neither Fifth Panzer Army nor LXVI Corps seems to have fixed a definite timetable; the 18th Volks Grenadier Division is said not to have expected to reach St. Vith earlier than 18 December.


Both the divisions which subsequently took part in the Schnee Eifel operation were newly organized and inexperienced. The 18th had been formed during September on the ruins of the 18th Air Force Field Division, earlier destroyed in the Mons pocket. Reconstructed from Luftwaffe and Navy units, plus a strong admixture of Volksdeutsche and workers drawn in by the new draft laws, the 18th lacked trained noncoms and officers. But the unit was more fortunate than many another in that its occupation of the northern sector in the Schnee Eifel did not bring on many losses prior to the counteroffensive and permitted its troops to be rotated through training areas in the rear.


The division commander seems to have sold General Lucht on the idea of making the main thrust toward St. Vith from north of the Schnee Eifelalthough both were certain that the double envelopment envisaged would cut off a very large American force. The right attack group was heavily weighted, consisting of two regiments, most of the division artillery, and the assault gun brigade. In reserve, for exploitation of any success on the right wing, was a mobile battalion, made up of the division tank destroyer battalion, a reconnaissance company, and an engineer company. The main breakthrough was to be attempted in the vicinity of Roth. The left attack group, one regiment and a battalion of self-propelled artillery, was directed to make its penetration through Bleialf, where the Americans probably would be encountered in force. Nevertheless, this kampfgruppe had the mission of seizing the Schonberg bridge. The division replacement battalion, two hundred strong, would be left to man the division center along the Schnee Eifel. Early in December the 62d Volks Grenadier Division, Lucht's second division, detrained at Prum, but did not go immediately into the forward corps sector. The 62d bore the number of an infantry division which had been destroyed on the Eastern Front, but it had been rebuilt from the ground up. Never before in action, the 62d was commanded by a general who likewise lacked combat experience, Generalmajor Frederich Kittel. The division was at full strength for its class: like the 18th it numbered three regiments of two-battalion strength. Equipment was new and complete. The mission now handed the newly arrived division was to effect a break-through on the left of the 18th Volks Grenadier Division in the GrosslangenfeldHeckhuscheid sector, advance northwest on a broad front (clearing the Pronsfeld-St. Vith road), and seize the Our River crossings at Steinebruck. The 62nd Volks Grenadier Divi-