The 257th Volks-Grenadier Division

As an organization, the 257th Volks-Grenadier Division fought around Bitche twice during World War II.

Originally raised in March of 1939 in Potsdam, near Berlin, the 257th Infantry Division (the "Berlin Bears") participated in occupation duties in Poland before charging through the weakest part of the Maginot Line in the Saar in June of 1940. After penetrating the Maginot to the west of Bitche, General von Viebahn's division circled around and attacked the outer works of the Ensemble de Bitche from the south -- the same direction from which the 100th attacked in December 1944! Unlike the 100th, however, the 257th failed to make a dent in the Maginot fortifications there, although they sustained about the same number of casualties in their futile attempts to do so.

The 257th Infantry Division saw extensive combat on the Eastern Front, and was actually pulled out twice for refitting, once in the summer of 1942, and again in the autumn of 1944. In October of 1944, the Division was converted to a Volks-Grenadier Division, (only two battalions in each infantry regiment, but they were equipped with assault rifles and the newest machineguns), reconstituted with Army (previously wounded) veterans and reclassified Navy and Luftwaffe NCOs. The Division trained together in occupied Poland and, again, in its home area of Berlin for about five weeks prior to being shipped to the West, and committed against the 100th Division near Bitche. After all of the vicissitudes of the last four and a half years, perhaps there were still a few men in the 257th who remembered the success with which the French defenders of the Ensemble de Bitche had thwarted their division's attack from the south in 1940; if so, they were in for a rude surprise as the 100th and 44th Infantry Divisions penetrated the Maginot positions around Bitche by the 20th of December.

While the Combat Team 398 was assaulting Fort Schiesseck, and the 44th Infantry Division's 71st Infantry Regiment was attacking Fort Simserhof a few kilometers to the west, the 257th VGD was withdrawn to assembly areas north and east of the Camp de Bitche in preparation for the NORDWIND offensive. Here, the units of the Division were brought to nearly full strength, and last minute preparations were made for attacking into the Low Vosges east of Bitche -- the sector held by Task Force Hudelson. After breaking through the thinly-held defenses there, the 257th was to swing around to the west, seize Lemberg, and go on to Goetzenbruck/Sarreinsberg, thus securing the western end of some of the critical routes for German armor to pass through the Low Vosges and onto the Plain of Alsace. It would also, in tandem with the 559th VGD, complete the encirclement of the 100th Infantry Division!

The Ia (German equivalent of a US division G-3, or operations and training officer) of the 257th summed up the 257th's situation before NORDWIND this way,

"The morale and attitude of all of the replacements had to called very good, which represents a noteworthy fact considering the long duration of the war and our critical military situation . . . The material equipment of the Division was supplied according to plan . . . it corresponded to the tables of equipment -- except for some unessential deviations -- and was of the newest make and excellent. Only the equipment with motor vehicles was deficient in quality as well as quantity. . . The initial success of the Ardennes Offensive -- starting on 17 December -- had an extremely favorable effect on the morale and attitude of the Division after having luckily passed its first engagements."

Nevertheless, the same officer (Oberstleutnant Ernst Linke) also noted that before NORDWIND, the 257th Volksgrenadiers had never before participated in an offensive operations together, and that although morale was high and the chain of command was experienced, the mission of attacking in winter into unfamiliar terrain was a daunting one indeed.

The mission of the 257th VGD in NORDWIND was to penetrate the American lines east of Bitche, seize Lemberg to cut off the 100th Infantry Division, and gain control of the Tieffenbach -- Wimmenau road on both sides of Wingen-sur-Moder. This would facilitate the breakout of Army Group G's armored reserves (the 21st Panzer and 25th Panzer-Grenadier Divisions) on the Plain of Alsace via the Ingwiller exit from the Low Vosges.

After slashing through the screen of Task Force Hudelson's mechanized cavalry units on the right, the 257th VGD closed in on Lemberg and Goetzenbruck against resistance from the 399th Infantry and elements of the 398th. As a result of apparent confusion in German higher headquarters, the 257th and the neighboring 559th VGD could not coordinate their assault on the town, however. While the staff of XC Corps to which they belonged hammered out the problems, reinforcements from the 36th Infantry Division's 141st Infantry Regiment and the 14th Armored Division's 19th Armored Infantry Battalion arrived to shore up the beleaguered defense . Although they tried for four days to break through to the south and west, the Landsers of the 257th were repulsed, and never secured the key road to the south. One of their regiments, Grenadier Regiment 477, was transferred to theLXXXIX Corps just to the east, in a fruitless attempt to break through the VI Corps defenses near Lichtenberg and Reipertswiller, but the rest of the division was ordered over to the defensive on 4 January, to hold the ground it had won.

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