The 361st Volks-Grenadier Division
The 100th Infantry Division first encountered the 361st Volks-Grenadier Division during the drive north from Sarrebourg, toward Bitche. It was elements of the 361st that captured most of Company A/398th in Wingen-sur-Moder on 4 December, and it was this division that so stubbornly opposed the 100th's advance at Lemberg and Mouterhouse.
The first division to bear the number "361" was activated 24 September 1943 in Denmark. It was built around a cadre from the remnants of the 86th Infantry Division, which had been almost destroyed in the battle for Kursk, in the USSR, just a few months before. Replacements came from the Rhineland and Westphalia to form around this core, and after about five months of training, the 361st, commanded byGeneralleutnant Siegmund Freiherr von Scheinitz, entrained for the Eastern Front.
From March to August of 1944, the 361st Infantry Division fought the Soviets in Belorussia and Poland, as part of Army Group Center. By late summer, the 361st was all but destroyed, and the division was disbanded.
The second unit to bear this number was the unit which fought in the Low Vosges. It was organized as a Volks-Grenadier Division (VGD), and was built around an infantry cadre. Again, it included mostly men from the Rhineland and Westphalia, but this time, many of them were reclassified Navy ratings and Luftwaffe troops who by virtue of the fortunes of war, were out of a job. The ex-antiaircraft gunners, ASTP men and former Air Corps "flyboys" who ended up in as infantrymen in the 100th Infantry Division weren't the only ones who got more than they bargained for.
The new 361st VGD's commanding general, Generalmajor Alfred Philippi, was a 41-year old infantryman from Austria who had won the Knight's Cross for valor on the Eastern Front. Commenting on his new charges' attitude toward the Army, he remarked that few of them were enthusiastic about duty as combat infantrymen. However, he added that, "The combination of men from Westphalia and the Rhineland proved favorable: the tough, persevering character of the Westphalian and the light temperament and verve of the Rhinelander were a good mixture."
After about five weeks of training, the 361st VGD was deployed in Lorraine, fighting defensive and delaying actions against elements of the US Third Army. In November, they opposed the advance of the 44th Infantry Division near Sarrebourg, and in December, they grudgingly gave ground as they fought tenacious delaying actions from south to north through the Low Vosges. After becoming familiar with the terrain between Bitche and the German border in this way, many of the 361st's leaders had a distinct advantage when they led their units over the same ground during the commencement of NORDWIND-- an advantage that would be extremely useful when they counterattacked in early January, straight through the positions of Task Force Hudelson!