Foret de Parroy After nearly four consecutive months of combat as part of First and Third Armies, the 79th Division had sustained considerable casualties, yet it was allowed no time for rest or reorganization. Immediately following the seizure of Luneville as part of the Third Army, the division was thrust into the battle for the Parroy Forest, where Hitler himself had fought as a corporal in World War I, The orders were for the 79th on the left and the 2nd French Armored on the right. The thickly wooded Parroy Forest proved to be a major obstacle in the path toward the Vosges mountain barrier and the Saverne Gap. While the 79th Infantry Division and XV Corps artillery gradually wrested the Parroy Forest from elements of the German 11th Panzer and 15th Panzer-Grenadier Divisions and later, the 553rd Volks-Grenadier Division, the intense combat in this sector caused more than two thousand casualties in the division in less than a month, more than it had seen in any other single battles to date.
Following the capture of the city of Luneville and the crossing of the Meurthe River, the 79th Infantry Division received orders for an attack on the Foret de Parroy. This attack was set for the 25th of September and was to be preceded by a bombing mission by the XIX Tactical Air Command. On the 24th of September, the Regiments had moved up behind a reconnaissance screen to their respective jump-off positions; the 315th Regiment in the vicinity of Crion-Sionviller, the 313th Regiment on the right of the 315th Regiment, in the vicinity of Jolivet-Chanteheux and the 314th Regiment in reserve in the vicinity of Croismare and Marainviller.
Map of the Battle in the Foret de Parroy
The versatility of the doughboys was again about to be tried. They were coming up against a new type of warfare, forest fighting. Reconnaissance indicated that the enemy was holding the forest in strength. It was evident that the Germans considered the forest as one of the most critical sectors of the Western Front and had quickly formed new defensive positions along the Vezouse River and through the forest itself.
The men of the 79th Division faced one of their toughtest assignments. The Germans had a commanding view of the terrain and were using extensive pre-war defensive fortifications. Although they had been retreating steadily, the favorable terrain situation enabled them to turn and indulge in a stubborn defense of their positions, using the thick cover of the woods to the best advantage. Tanks and assault guns, which were difficult to knock out in the woods, were brought up in large numbers and fired in direct support of the infantry.
Operations of the 106th Calvary Group in the Foret de Parroy
Through the Vosages to Strasbourg
Foret de Parroy Battlebook
To defend the forest, the German High Command had sent one of its crack units, the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, supported by the 113th Panzer Brigade, to the sector. Both of these outfits were later to suffer heavy casualties at the hands of the 79th Division fighting machine.
The 79th Division's drive to clear the forest was stymied for several days as poor weather forced the postponement of intensive boming of the sector. Continued patroling, however, took place when the air bombardment was further postponed. An effort was made to link up the 121st Cavalry Squadron and advanced infantry elements of the 313th and 314th Regiments but the enemy remained strong enough to prevent this contact. All patrols sent forward to probe enemy defenses ran into strong resistance that occupied well dug-in positions on the edge of the forest. Several enemy tanks were wiped out by the 312th Field Artillery Battalion while more than 30 of the enemy's artillery positions were counter-battereid by XV Corps Artillery.
Receipt of a Corps' field order necessitated a change in the positions of the Regiments. The 315th Regiment moved to an assembly area north of Luneville, the First Battalion of the 313th Regiment took over the Verzouse River line with a company garrisoning Chantcheux. The 314th Regiment was ordered to establish outposts along the river and garrisons in Croismare and Marainviller, with the 79th Reconnaissance Troop setting up OP's in Jolivet, Croismare, and Marainviller.
The repeatedly postponed bombing of the Foret de Parroy by XIX Tactical Air Command finally took place on September 28th and lasted one and a half hours. The bombing assault took place with minimal effect to the enemy, one day before the XV Corps was to pass to 6th Army Group control. The air attack began at 1400 followed by the ground assault of the 313th and 315th Infantry at 1630 that afternoon. However, of the 288 bombers and fighter-bombers scheduled to participate in the preparatory strikes, only 37 actually arrived, again because of poor flying conditions; and the results of the 37-plane attack against a target covering some thirty square miles were negligible. In addition, the two-hour interval between the last air strikes and the beginning of the 79th Division's ground attack gave the Germans ample time to recover from whatever shock effect the limited bombardment may have had. As a result the 79th Division infantrymen found themselves locked in a bitter struggle with the German defenders as soon as they began to penetrate the forest.
On 29 September at 0001, the Division, as part of XV Corps, passed to 7th Army.
Following the bombing, the 313th and 315th Regiments jumped off, using the main west-to-east road through the forest as a boundary line. The 315th Regiment reached the edge of the woods without much opposition, but here they came under heavy machine-gun and artillery fire. Tanks and TD's were brought up to help clean out this resistance and, by 1630, the Regiment was able to enter the forest, not knowing that it would be 14 days of hell before they would emerge from the other side. Additionally, the 106th Cavalry Group, had been given the mission to advance in zone and project the left flank of the corps and maintain contact with the elements of the Third Army on the north.
Meanwhile, the 313th Regimental Combat Team advanced from the Vezouse River fairly rapidly. Although the enemy launched a number of counterattacks, they were driven back. Heavy fighting marked these attacks; the Germans hurled back as the result of numerous bazooka teams rushed into play. Heavy casualties were suffered by the Third Battalion of the 313th Regiment during one of the counterattacks as enemy artillery cut down their advanced elements. The 79th Division Artillery went into action immediately; silencing the German artillery pieces and inflicting terrific casualties on the enemy.
By October 1st the 313th and 315th had moved about one-third of the way eastward into the Foret de Parroy. They were facing the 15th Panzergrenadier Division, and the 113th Panzer Brigade supplied by a constant stream of reinforcements, tanks and assault guns. Mark IV tanks were everywhere. The 314th, after 45 minutes of artillery, gained ground fast. G and F/Companies reached the forest in an hour with E/Co close behind facing heavy return fire brought on my the 314th's artillery barrage. Croismare and Marainviller were under heavy shelling as the 3rd BN started across the Vesouze.
Ahead, the 2nd BN, after losing one tank and capturing 16 POWs, stopped at 1200 to allow 3rd BN to catch up to their position. By 1430, the battalions had regrouped, and met little resistance moving forward. They set up camp for the night holding a line 1800 yards from Parroy. The 314th established contact with the 313th on its left. In Marainviller, the 1st BN was relieved by the 313th's 1st BN, who had been in Corps reserves. B and C/Co was sent across the river to positions on the Regiment's right. This location was the southern portion of Parroy, called Les Grands Bois. An Anti-Tank Company held road blocks at Beaulieu Farms.
Artillery fell all night on the 314th's position, and trees were exploding everywhere from the bursts and mortar fire. At 0800, 2 October, the Regiment attacked again. 3rd BN made its objective through the woods to a clearing on the western edge.
K and L Companies attempted patrols into the open area, but enemy fire drove them back. 2nd BN moved out to the left to cover the retreating and hard hit 313th position, but as it neared its objective, German machine gun fire stalled the advance. E and G Companies attempted to advance beyond the 313th's line, but had to turn back to reorganize. The cornerstone of the German defenses in Foret de Parroy was the main supply crossroads on the Regimental boundary line. 3rd BN, leaving a small group in the western clearing, swung around to augment 2nd BNs attack on the strong point. 1st BN, still south at Les Grands Bois, was hit with an infantry company of Germans, so they were ordered to hold position. E Co moved in behind the 313th's position to shore up a gap which had opened between the 313th and 315th's sectors.
At 0615, 3 October, 2nd BNs E and F Companies advanced up the ridge line to take out the enemy pocket blocking the 313th. Further on, contact was made with the 315th Regiment. Moving eastward, the companies caught the enemy off guard, and had the position by 0800, with 17 POWs captured. The two companies, with the 315th, moved ahead again along the boundary road until stopped by a heavily-armed German road block. E Co waited for tank support, while F Co moved up on the right a few hundred yards where they startled a loose group of German infantry. On the 3rd BN's right flank, 1st BN's B Co had regrouped with K Co. At 0900, German infantry, supported by tanks, moved back B Companies entire line. C Co held fast, to the right, halting the advance. K Co repositioned back to maintain contact with B Co.
The tanks rolled in just in time to force the enemy for rear areas. By 1600, 2nd BN was back in line (E-left, F-center, G-right), and by nightfall F and G/Companies were on the objective with E/Co just 150 yards short. The tanks set up a blockade to the right of the position, and settled in for the night. More artillery tree bursts went on all throughout the night. Tree bursts occur when artillery shells are fused to explode super-quick. The shells hit tree tops and explode there, showering everything below with schrapnel and wood splinters.
The attack for the crossroads was set to go off a 0700, 4 October. As the companies prepared to deploy, four Mark IV tanks and a company of German Infantry moved to 2nd BNs front. Two tanks were at E Company's line, and one was hit with a bazooka shot at five yards. The others slammed into the battalion's area, with E and G Companies taking heavy casualties. As soon as the U.S. tanks started their engines, the enemy opened fire with a hard concentration of mortars. Before 2nd BN could reorganize, an enemy counter-attack drove into the sector between E and G Co, and knocked a hole in the line. 2nd's HQ, along with the heavy weapons from H Co, was thrown into battle and helped close the gap. By 1700, the major fighting had stopped, but there was a huge sag in the 2nd BN line. A Co sent over a platoon of reinforcements for a secondary defense later than night. The other battalions remained in position.
The order for 5 October told the 314th to hold fast while the 315th moved around to the left to outflank the crossroads defenses. At 1300, the 2nd BN let loose with all its firepower to mask the 315th's movement.
There was a lull in activity for most of 5-8 October, so the 314th sent out patrols for spots to park tanks and TDs (tank destroyers) for the upcoming attack. German artillery filled the air almost constant. Rumor had it that the Foret de Parroy was Hitler's favorite forest - where he himself had fought in World War One - and he had ordered it held at all costs. A captured German Colonel was overheard saying that "...the Americans hadn't taken the forest in the last war, and this one would end with them still trying."
Late 8 October, the 314th received orders to resume the attack. Plans were made for a large-scale attack which, if successful, would clear the forest of the enemy. Thee first BN of the 313th Regiment was to create a diversion at Marainviller while the 315th Regiment and Second Battalion of the 314th Regiment attacked in the forest, and where a strongpoint at a crossroads three-quarters of the way through the forest was overcome, the Second and Third Battalions of the 313th Regiment would continue the attack through the Second Battalion of the 314th Regiment. German forces had counter-attacked again on the 2nd and 3rd BNs positions, but the 314th held them off until they withdrew.
At 0630, on October 9, the First Battalion of the 313th Regiment began the diversion by firing into the woods, and gernerally creating a lot of noise. The enemy rose to the bait centering his attention here. Meanwhile the 315th Regiment and the Second Battalion of the 314th Regiment jumped off in the driving rain, advancing rapidly until the strongpoint was reached. Here the Second Battalion of the 314th Regiment and the Third Battalion of the 315th Regiment came under very heavy fire from dug-in tanks and machine guns. Time after time, our troops assaulted this strongpoint only to get pinned down. Finally, at approximately 1530, the doughboys, assisted by tanks and TD's, attacked from all sides, subduing this sore spot. With its fall, the whole defense system in the forest seemed to collapse. All unites sent out patrols which were able to reach the east edge of the forest.
With its capture of the crossroads by the 2nd BN, the German's hope of holding Foret de Parroy was shattered. With the taking of the forest, rumors circulated that rest was finally in the cards for the weary 79th, but it was not to be so. The 79th was involved in additional fighting until finally relieved on the 23rd of October by the 44th Infantry Division.
During the campaign, the 79th Division met the best troops German Army commanders could throw into the battle. Among them were the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, 113th Panzer Brigade, 33d Panzer Grenadier Reserve Battalion, 11th Panzer Division, 51st Fortress Machine-Gun Battalion, 115th Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, 553d Infantry Division, 19th Infantry Division and the 12th Pazer Division. Total XV Corps casualties for the month of October, including those of the 2d French Armored Division, numbered about 365 men killed, 2,310 wounded, 165 missing, and 2,410 nonbattle. During the month XV Corps received 5,720 replacements or returnees, and the corps captured over 1,760 Germans.
For the next 16 days in rest camps, in and around Luneville, the men of the Division enjoyed relaxation but the Foret de Parroy was not a battle they would soon forget.