This was the US final-phase offensive against the German-held Metz salient of eastern France by Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army of Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s 12th Army Group against General Otto von Knobelsdorff’s (from 30 November General Hans von Obstfelder’s) 1st Army of General Hermann Balck’s Heeresgruppe ‘G’ (8 November/13 December 1944).
The Battle of Metz was a three-month campaign fought round the city of Metz following the Allied break-out from their Normandy lodgement and subsequent race across France toward the German border. The attack on the city of Metz by the 3rd Army faced heavy resistance from the defending German forces, and resulted in heavy casualties for each side.
Located between the Seille and Moselle rivers, Metz was at the time a heavily fortified city with many forts and observation posts connected by entrenchments and tunnels. After the fall of France in June 1940, the city was annexed to Germany. Most senior members of the Nazi party assumed that Metz, where many German officers had been born, was naturally a German city, but at the time the German army did not consider it an important location and the city’s defences were reduced, many guns and much equipment being removed for use elsewhere.
However, as the Allied forces advanced rapidly into German-held territory in July 1944 following their break-out from the Normandy lodgement, the importance of Metz came to be appreciated once more as an important location at which the Germans could attempt to contain the Allied advance. By the end of August 1944, the German forces in Lorraine had managed to re-establish a defensive line and the 3rd Army had been halted in the face of the German defences, resulting in a brief operational pause in this area of the Western Front. According to an order issued by Adolf Hitler in March 1944, fortress commanders were ordered to allow their fortresses to be surrounded, if necessary, and hold them until authorised by Hitler to surrender.
Metz was required to follow this order by a time early in September as the 3rd Army had reached Verdun and now posed a threat to the Saarland western region of Germany proper. The German command intended to obtain more time for the strengthening of the 'Westwall' through this strategy. The defence was the responsibility of the 1st Army, and the strength of the Germans forces positioned in the vicinity of Metz was equivalent of 4.5 divisions.
Armoured cavalry elements of Major General Walton H. Walker’s US XX Corps, undertaking a reconnaissance in the direction of the Moselle river, made contact with elements of SS-Oberführer Thomas Müller’s (soon SS-Standartenführer Gustav Mertsch’s, then SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Werner Ostendorff’s and finally SS-Standartenführer Hans Linger’s) 17th SS Panzergrenadierdivision 'Götz von Berlichingen' on 6 September, and 12 days later Panzer elements made contact with US reconnaissance units once again. The US forces had not expected the presence of German forces in this area, and had to concentrate units which had become widely spread. Several small-scale attacks were made by the US forces after this encounter.
The first significant US attack was launched by Major General Stafford Leroy Irwin’s 5th Division, and sought to take a bridgehead to the north of Metz. This attack was beaten off, as too was another which followed on the city itself. In another attack, the US forces captured a small bridgehead across the Moselle river to the south of Metz.
By the end of September, German forces positioned to the north were relocated into the southern area of Metz, and a number of men were also withdrawn from Metz. Following this new development, Major General Manton S. Eddy’s XII Corps launched another attack, and this too was countered by the German defenders. In the following two weeks, the US forces limited themselves to small-scale attacks and patrolling in the Metz area, and during this time the XX Corps underwent a training programme and experimented with methods of reducing the defences of the fortress. By this time, the US command had decided to attack Metz from the rear with an assault from the east. On November 3, a new US attack was launched, and this took the outer defences.
The 3rd Army was currently marking time as fuel was short and Bradley had given priority to Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges’s US 1st Army on Patton’s northern flank. Even so, on the 3rd Army’s left shoulder the XX Corps had reached the Moselle river between Metz and Thionville, and on its right shoulder the XII Corps had attained the Seille river above and below Nomeny after advancing from Grand Couronne. Farther advance was prevented by the inability of Irwin’s 5th Division to reduce the German bastion in the Kronprinz fortress dominating the road between Metz and Nancy at Ars sur Moselle. Thus the position rested as Allied forces farther to the north tried, with little success, to break through the ‘Siegfried-Linie’ defences. The strategic weight was then shifted to the south once again to the 3rd Army’s sector, where Patton planned a major drive through Saarlouis for 19 December once the Metz salient had been reduced.
General Hasso-Eccard Freiherr von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzerarmee had been moved to the north, so the defence of the 125-mile (200-km) front in Lorraine was left to the 1st Army, which had only nine understrength infantry divisions for the task of halting Patton’s three powerful corps of six infantry and three armoured divisions. The US offensive was launched on 8 November in very heavy rain.
The XII Corps (Major General Hugh J. Gaffey’s 4th Armored Division, Major General Robert W. Grow’s 6th Armored Division, Major General Willard S. Paul’s 26th Division, Major General Paul W. Baade’s 35th Division and Major General Horace L. McBride’s 80th Division) pushed through the three divisions of General Werner Freiherr von und zu Gilsa’s (from 1 December General Gustav Höhne’s) LXXXIX Corps and SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Max Simon’s XIII SS Corps to take Moyenvic and Nomeny before exploiting toward St Avold and Rohrbach despite counterattacks by the 17th SS Panzergrenadierdivision and Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtinger’s 21st Panzerdivision.
Comprising Major General William H. Morris’s 10th Armored Division, Irwin’s 5th Division, Major General James A. Van Fleet’s 90th Division and Major General Harry L. Twaddle’s 95th Division, the XX Corps drove past Metz and through General Walter Hörnlein’s LXXXII Corps to reach the Franco-German border on 20 November. Metz was thus isolated, and the task of reducing it fell to Major General John Millikin’s III Corps against the opposition of a German garrison under Generalleutnant Heinrich Kittel comprising 7,000 men of Generalleutnant Vollrath Lübbe’s (from 14 November Generalmajor Heinrich Kittel’s) 462nd Volksgrenadierdivision with 30 guns. On 18 November the US forces entered Metz, where fighting had ended by 22 November, and Fort Jeanne d’Arc, the last of the outlying forts, capitulated on 13 December.
By this time the XX Corps had penetrated into the ‘Siegfried-Linie’ defences by taking the bridge over the Saar river between Saarlouis and Fraulautern.