The bridgehead at Uckange – Operation Casanova
- Date : From 8 To 14 November 1944
- Location of the action : Uckange, France
- Unit in the area : 1st Battalion, 377th Inf. Regiment
Above : 1/377th crossing at Uckange was made in boats like this one; it’s a training shot of the 377th Infantry Regiment making assault crossing.
On the night of 7 November, when General Patton gave the order that would set the Third Army attack in motion, the XX Corps assault troops began the move into assemble positions, guns were displaced forward to support the advance, and bridging and smoke generator equipment was trucked and manhandled as close to the Moselle as camouflage precautions permitted. Early on the morning of 8 November the dull sound of massed artillery fire to the south signaled the start of the XII Corp attack. All through the day the XX Corps troops lay quietly in woods and other bivouac areas. Then, as darkness came, the assault units took up attack positions and 95th Division moved forward the troops assigned to carry out demonstrations and initial crossing preliminary to the main corps attack.
The plan to achieve a genuine crossing at Thionville was planned but the division had to convince the Germans that the crossing would take place south of Thionville. The need to create another beachhead ” diversion ” was requested. The unit designated for this mission called ” Operation Casanova ” was the 1st Battalion of the 377th Infantry Regiment while the two other units of the Division, the 378th Infantry Regiment and 379th would continue to contain the western fortified salient around Metz . The mission report specifies that the attack would be conducted on November 8 , the day before the XX Corps initiatives to cross the river . Thus, the first blood shed in the final battle of Metz will be paid by the ” new guys ” of the 95th Infantry Division.
The 1st Battalion was chosen to make the river crossing, and after the move from the southern bridgehead, they were transferred to the riverbank in the Uckange area. All 95th Division markings were removed, fake message traffic was maintained and they disguised themselves as the 359th Infantry Regiment, by then on the north toward Aumetz. Their mission was to cross the Moselle, move across the flood plain on the far side and occupy the small town of Immeldange astride the main north-south road between Metz and Sierck-lès-Bains. There they were to dig in and wait to be relieved by troops moving down from the main crossing site.
Above : Map of Operation Casanova
The appalling weather conditions precluded the planned preliminary air attack on the enemy on the far bank, but an artillery concentration was fired. At dusk, a company of the 320th Combat Engineer Battalion slipped across the river, detonated mines, and blew a gap through the barbed wire. At 2100, Company C of the 377th Infantry Regiment paddled across in 17 assault boats, a distance of some 200 yards. The first wave received no small arms fire while in the boats. The 73d regiment, 19th VG Division, responsible for the sector, had no outposts at the river and required some time to move troops into the threatened area. But the “bouncing Betties” along the bank took their toll as the company debarked. The Americans passed through the gap in the German wire and advanced about four hundred yards to the east, then halted to await daylight and the arrival of the remainder of the battalion.
In the meantime, the enemy artillery, located inland, had opened up, apparently firing on check points earlier fixed along the river. Company B of the 135th Engineer Combat Battalion, assigned as part of the 1139th Engineer Group to support the 95th Division crossing, tried desperately to throw a footbridge across the river, but the German guns were too accurate. Three bridge sections were destroyed, twenty-four men became casualties, and work on the bridge halted until a new and less vulnerable site could be found. Company A was ferried over in the early hours of 9 November. By then, however, the weather had begun to exert its baneful influence. During the previous night the river had started to flood, fed by the torrential rain, and by the morning had burst its banks. The turbulent waters had spread out over the flood plain, doubling the normal width of the river and vastly increasing the speed of the current. The approach road to the crossing site disappeared under the water and all efforts to get a telephone line across were frustrated by the current. Thus the only means of communication were via a frail radio link.
By daybreak on 9 November, the 1st Battalion had two rifle companies and a heavy weapons platoon across the swirling river. They then began to move off further inland, bypassed the village of Bertrange and established themselves on a low hill to the east, out of reach of the spreading water. Although not directly menaced by enemy infantry, shelling and mortar fire were heavy and the men dug in to keep warm. At 0905, the battalion reported hack to Regimental HQ : “Two companies are across river. River is very high and we’re not sending others over”.
The flood waters frustrated all attempts to supply the two companies, who were by then entirely cut off. The speed of the current and accurate enemy shelling made daylight movement across the Moselle more or less impossible, even when outboard motors were attached to the assault boats. It was therefore decided to try air supply by artillery spotter aircraft. Ten L-4’s flew throughout the afternoon, each with a “dropper” who had volunteered to squat behind the pilot. Flying at only 25 feet, they managed to deliver 1080 K-rations, 46000 rounds of small-arms ammunition, 4000 rounds of 50-caliber ammunition, medical supplies, cigarettes, water purification tablets, plasma, and even a sack of toilet paper. The drops were certainly accurate, and a platoon leader said: “We got all the rations we needed from the planes.” Major Neumann, who flew several missions, reported that he “could see some of our men standing in water in their foxholes. They waved and shouted when we dropped some rations right down next to the foxhole.” This was the first of several occasions during the Battle of Metz when such light aircraft were used for resupply missions to isolated troops.
During the night of 11 and 12 November, the flood waters began to recede, and the following night it proved possible to ferry across the remainder of the battalion. This was undertaken without loss, as the engineers carried out a feint crossing by running their outboard motors, to distract the German artillery observers.
The operation of the Uckange bridgehead failed to tie down any significant numbers of German reserves. The main attack which started on the following day was immediately recognized to be the more important thrust. Thus the point of the deception was lost. The 19 Volksgrenadier Division did not have any reserves to commit anyway and would soon have realized that only small numbers of Americans were involved. By then, the German had identified the 10th Armored Division north of Thionville and had observed the buildup of bridging equipment in this area.
During this time, the 2nd Battalion of the 378th Infantry Division commanded by Colonel Maroun, did a real bridgehead in Thionville, received the order to gather the Battalion plus some tanks and tank destroyers, and attack southward to relieve the defenders in the Uckange bridgehead.
During the morning of 13 November, 1st Battalion 377th Infantry Regiment was ordered by the 95th Infantry Division to move off to the north, bypass Bertrange and Immeldange and capture Illange where they would link up with Colonel Maroun’s men. The men of this battalion took the two former town without difficulties, but as they regrouped prior to moving off, they were struck by a task force from the 73rd Grenadier Regiment, supported by some antitank guns. The forces in the two towns became separated and went to ground as the Germans roared up and down the long main streets in armored personnel carriers shooting at anything that moved. Communication with their artillery on the west bank broke down.
It was only restored early in the morning of 14 November, with a First Sergeant of the Company A acting as forward observer. However, in spite of the usually effective American artillery response, the Germans were not easily discouraged. They pressed their attacks all day, supported by light armored vehicles, to such an extent that at 2200, the battalion commander reported that his mission was “desperate”. One must remember that the 1st Battalion men were armed only with the weapons that they could carry and had been in action nonstop since the evening of 8 November.
During the evening, communications again broke down, and on the morning of 15 November, the remainder of the battalion was still holding out in the gutted ruins of the two villages. Bacon’s force arrived just in the nick of time, but during his advance, and using his tank destroyers as self-propelled artillery, Colonel Bacon shelled the Germans out of Bertrange and Immeldande, and by 1300, the beleaguered forces were relieved. Their strength, however, had been reduced to a mere handful of officers and men, but instead of being sent into reserve, they immediately became a part of Task Force Bacon.
At 2345, November 15, Colonel Bacon, reported the following strength figures for the rifle companies of the 1st Battalion. (It will be remembered that the normal strength of a rifle company is over 180 men.)
Company A : 1 officer and 42 enlisted men
Company B : 1 officer and 39 enlisted men
Company C : 4 officers and 107 enlisted men.
The figures speak for themselves on the price the 1st Battalion had paid for Operation Casanova. The results were less tangible, but it is clear that the 1st Battalion had made a contribution to the overall success of the Metz operation. They had drawn a large percentage of German artillery fire to Uckange area, and thus made easier the crossing of the 90th Infantry Division at Koenigsmacker and of the 2nd Battalion of the 378th Infantry Regiment at Thionville. In addition, they had forced the Germans to expend armor and infantry in a futile attempt to wipe out the Uckange bridgehead. They had held their ground against this counterattack and on November 16 they pushed aggressively south with Task Force Bacon and were to play an important part in the final assault on Metz.