DVIDS – News – 78th Infantry Division breaks through German defenses
by Michael E. Bigelow, INSCOM Command Historian
On January 30, 1945, Maj. Gen. Edwin P Parker, Jr.’s 78th Infantry Division launched an attack near the towns of Simmerath and Kesternich. In just three days, the division had met its objectives and broken through the enemy defenses. The success of the attack was attributable to the divisional leaders’ careful preparations, including that of Parker’s G-2, Lt. Col. Robert C. Wilson, Jr.
In mid-December 1944, when the Germans attacked through the Ardennes to the south, Parker halted his own offensive operations just over the Belgian-German border. Transitioning to the defense, his division held an important road network and a two-mile salient into the German lines. For the next six weeks, Parker’s soldiers improved and consolidated their positions. Beyond limited attacks to destroy outlaying enemy pillboxes, the division’s frontline activity consisted chiefly of laying wire and mines and extensive patrolling over the snow-covered ground. Behind the lines, Parker and his commanders did their best to rest their soldiers from the rigors of the bitter cold and forward foxholes. More importantly, they used the operational pause to train on pillbox-assault techniques, demolition work, and tank-killing tactics.
Thirty-three-year-old Colonel Wilson, a long-time reserve officer who had been a corporate lawyer in Chicago, also made good use of the pause. Throughout January, he and his G-2 staff studied the enemy situation and the terrain facing their division. They laid out the enemy composition and disposition and evaluated the enemy’s defensive and counterattack possibilities. They also looked at alternative routes of advance for the division leadership.
For this analysis, Wilson combined intelligence from army and corps reports with information from the division’s own resources. Whenever possible, the division artillery’s spotter planes flew observation missions, reporting signs of enemy activity, and adjusting artillery fire on targets of opportunity. As aerial photos from higher echelons became scare, the division improvised a processing laboratory and began taking its own pictures from the artillery’s planes. Photo Interpretation (PI) Team 121 studied these photographs, picking out gun emplacements, enemy installations, and unusual terrain features.
At the same time, Interrogation of Prisoners of War (IPW) Teams 132 and 133 interrogated prisoners and reviewed captured documents. Captured documents indicated the German held command-post exercises and prepared elaborate plans for the defense of the sector. The frontline regiments provided a continuous supply of prisoners for examination. For example, during January, Maj. John H. Guthrie, the 311th Infantry’s S-2, sent thirty-two prisoners back to division, and his regiment regularly conducted raids to capture more. From these and other prisoners, Wilson’s IPW teams identified the German 272d Volksgrenadier Division facing the 78th Infantry Division and reported its strength and equipment.
As Wilson and his staff were developing their estimate of the enemy, the regimental S-2s were developing their own. Throughout January, their regiments aggressively patrolled so the whole area was carefully reconnoitered. Each reconnaissance patrol that went into the enemy lines during those wintry days and nights brought back some bit of information that was evaluated and added to estimates of the situation and then sent back to the division G-2. The careful and consistent intelligence work paid off for the 78th Infantry Division’s successful attack over the snowy German fields. Commanders had fairly accurate descriptions of the enemy and the area. “Instead of going in blind,” as the division’s postwar history noted, the soldiers “knew what to expect and were able to turn a corner and know there was a pillbox or troop shelter up ahead.”
|Date Posted:||01.30.2023 15:42|
|Location:||FORT HUACHUCA, AZ, US|
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