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Riviera to the Rhine : Jeffrey J Clarke :
The Rhine Riviera. See file Nightlife See file Rheinturm. Your customised guide Add files to start to configure your guide. As a result, the Seventh Army found itself holding a front of about miles miles from the Saarbrucken area east to Lauterbourg, and another 42 miles south along the Rhine-with only six infantry divisions.
This worked out to about twenty miles of front per division, six miles per regiment, or two per battalion-with the two armored divisions in reserve. Patch believed he had no choice but to use the Low Vosges as a dividing line between his two corps and placed his own headquarters at Saverne, directly behind the middle of his defenses. Expecting the main German attack down the Sarre River corridor, he concentrated the bulk of his strength in General Haislip's XV Corps, west of the Vosges, with three infantry divisions-the d, 44th, and th-on line covering about thirty-five miles of total frontage, backed by the new 12th Armored Division.
East of the Vosges, General Brooks' VI Corps held the upper, open portion of the salient, from Bitche to Lauterbourg, with the 45th and 79th Divisions, while using the 36th Division to cover its Rhine River front from Lauterbourg south to Strasbourg; the 14th Armored Division was his reserve. Although not enthusiastic about abanoning the Lauterbourg salient, both Devers and Patch agreed that Brooks should start pulling his forces back at the first sign of a major German attack. Their departures left his defensive lines paper thin.
As a partial remedy, Devers brought Leclerc's 2d Armored Division back and began rushing elements of three new infantry divisions-the 42d, 63d, and 70th-into the battle area. All three were untested units that had recently disembarked at Marseille and arrived at the front with little besides their infantry regiments.
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Without waiting for their attached artillery, armor, and other supporting elements, Patch organized them into task forces, each consisting of the three infantry regiments and a small command group led by the designated assistant division commander. With these additions and losses, Patch reorganized his defenses, initially placing the inexperienced infantrymen of Task Forces Linden, Harris, and Herren along the Rhine River front under the VI Corps.
In his center, southeast of Bitche, Patch inserted a small mechanized screening force to cover the Vosges area between Haislip's th Infantry Division in the north and Brooks' 45th Division in the south.
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This element, Task Force Hudelson, consisted of two cavalry squadrons, a detached armored infantry battalion, and a few supporting detachments. The withdrawn 12th Armored and 36th Infantry Divisions remained uncommitted, but were also in the Seventh Army's rear area around Sarrebourg and available in an emergency.
Still expecting a major German thrust down the Sarre River valley but unsure of the location and magnitude of secondary offensives, Devers moved his own advance headquarters from Phalsbourg in the Saverne Gap area to Luneville, forty miles to the rear. Nevertheless, he allowed de Lattre to retain control of the U. The 6th Army Group commander remained optimistic and still saw no need for a precipitous withdrawal from the Lauterbourg salient or from anywhere else. After steadily pushing enemy forces back for the past five months, Devers and his fellow generals were confident that the Seventh Army could stop any German attack, and they had no intention of voluntarily surrendering the ground their troops had painfully taken during the past several months.
Aware of the impending German offensive, American infantrymen on line prepared as best they could. Foxholes and trenches had to be excavated in the frozen earth, fields of fire planned and cleared, mineficids and other obstacles constructed, prearranged artillery and mortar barrages plotted, and telephone lines laid to replace the less-reliable radio communications systern used in the offense.
Slightly to the rear, staffs and supporting units brought up and stocked supplies - ammunition, fuel, and food - worked replacements into understrength units, and prepared contingency plans for all possible aspects of the coming battle. SHAEF levies on the newly arrived regiments further exacerbated the shortage of infantry, forcing Patch to begin converting some of his Army service personnel into foot soldiers and engineer units into rifle battalions, even before the expected offensive began.
Allied analyses of enemy rail and road traffic, radio intercepts, prisoner-of-war reports, and air reconnaissance over the battlefield indicated major German troop buildups in the Saarbrucken area, beyond the Rhine, and in the Colmar Pocket. Intelligence at the 6th Army Group headquarters placed the 21st Panzer Division and the 17th SS and 25th Panzer Grenadier Divisions somewhere in the Zweibruecken area, about ten miles behind the Sarre River line; American patrols had identified elements of these units and nine German infantry divisions on their fronts.
The Seventh Army G-2, Colonel Ouinn, believed that the total strength of opposing German infantry was equal to about twenty-four or twenty-five American battalions, but the size of the armored forces was a question mark. He estimated that the enemy would either launch a major attack with three mobile divisions down the Sarre River valley or "with forces currently in contact and in immediate reserve.
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Bussey, disagreed, feeling that current information on the German order of battle and an analysis of Luftwaffe air reconnaissance orders pinpointed the Sarre River valley as the major area of attack. Patch's evaluation of intelligence estimates was strongly influenced by the tactical situation. In his judgment, the Sarre River corridor approach still represented the gravest threat to the Seventh Army; a penetration there could split his forces and leave the VI Corps stranded on the Alsatian plains. In fact, the Germans had already signaled a preference for the region's offensive possibilities with the Panzer Lehr Division's counterattack back in November; obviously the same route promised the Germans their best chance of tactical success, especially since any offensive there could be easily supported from the Saarbrucken road nets.
For these reasons Patch, with Devers' blessing, continued to build up his forces west of the Low Vosges and, despite continued SHAEF pressure for a complete VI Corps withdrawal to the Vosges, planned only a partial and gradual retirement from the Lauterbourg salient-one that would place the VI Corps' main line of resistance on an east-west, Bitche-Strasbourg line as later suggested by de Gaulle by 5 January.
Clearly the American commanders expected the main German effort would take place west of the Vosges and had prepared an appropriate reception. Late afternoon air reconnaissance had reported German troop movements all across the northern front. Haislip's forces, he predicted, would bear the brunt of the impending offensive, but Patch was confident that his units were up to the task. Still there was no definite knowledge of specific German intentions or the scope and size of the predicted attacks.
Inclement weather had curtailed further aerial reconnaissance, and signal intercepts had revealed little.
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Outside the American command post, a new snowfall covered the woods and forests of the Low Vosges Mountains east of Fenetrange with a deceptively innocent coating of white, giving little hint of the coming struggle. In the Sarre valley the assault force was met by determined resistance from the 44th and th Infantry Division troops, who were well dug in and deployed in depth.
Expecting the major attack in this area, Patch and Haislip had jammed the XV Corps zone with three infantry divisions buttressed by the two regiments of Task Force Harris and-if the theater reserve units are counted-two armored and another infantry division in reserve, with a third armored division arriving. The Germin attack barely made a dent in the beefed-up Allied line. In some cases the SS troopers advanced in suicidal open waves, cursing and screaming at the American infantrymen who refused to be intimidated.
The infantry of the 36th Volksgrenadier did little better. Although Simon's forces finally managed to poke a narrow hole, about two miles in depth, at Rimling on the right wing of the 44th Division, the th Infantry Division held firm. In the days that followed the Germans saw their small advances continuously eroded by repeated counterattacks from the 44th, th, and 63d TF Harris Division infantry supported by elements of the French 2d Armored Division.
On 4 January the German high command formally called off the effort. As General Simon, the attacking corps commander, caustically observed, the Sarre assault had shown only that the German soldier still knew how to fight and how to die, but little else. Blaskowitz, with Hitler and von Rundstedt's approval, obviously chose not to throw the German armored reserves into the battle there, as planned, and sought weaker links in the American lines.
The second attack, launched from the Bitche area south through the Low Vosges, was more successful. Believing that the major German effort would be west of the mountains-or more concerned with the thin VI Corps lines in the Lauterbourg salient to the east-the American generals had not expected an enemy drive through such rough terrain, where snowy, narrow roads bisected rather than paralleled the southward German axis of advance.
The assembly areas of the attacking infantry on New Year's Eve had been hidden in the Maginot Line bunkers still in German hands; there had been no pre-attack artillery bombardment to warn the defenders; and the overcast sky and thick mountain forests had provided cover for the assault throughout the first day of the offensive. On 31 December Task Force Hudelson held a roughly defined mountain front from the Bitche area on the west to the vicinity of Neunhoffen on the east.
This ad hoc group, commanded by Col. Hudelson, consisted of the 94th and th Cavalry Squadrons, with mostly jeeps and light armored cars, and the half-tracks of the 62d Armored Infantry Battalion, reinforced only by a tank destroyer company. Rather than stopping a determined attack, his job was to delay and channel it until reinforcements could arrive. But Hudelson's delaying power proved limited during the early hours of 1 January.
Moving south through the dark forests, leading elements of the th, th, st, and th Volksgrenadier Divisions easily penetrated the positions of the small American mechanized force, bypassing strongpoints and scattering the roadbound armored units as they withdrew and tried to regroup. Quickly the various components of the light mechanized unit found themselves retreating to the east and west, abandoning many of their snowbound vehicles in the process.
During the next four days the attacking infantry divisions pushed south through the Vosges for about ten miles; but the real contest for control of the vital mountain exits began almost immediately, as reinforcing American units tried to keep the German volksgrenadiers bottled up in the Low Vosges forests.
On the western edge of the advance, the U. Together these units, with an assist from the 14th Armored Division, channeled the advancing German infantry away from the Sarre River valley to the south and east. Across the Vosges, with fewer forces at his immediate disposal, Brooks was forced to make major changes in the dispositions of his corps. First he withdrew two inexperienced infantry regiments of Task Force Herren 70th Division from the Rhine front and moved them across the interior of the VI Corps area to plug up the eastern exits to the Vosges, under the direction of Frederick's 45th Infantry Division.
In the center, blocking the way to Phalsbourg and Saverne, Brooks and Frederick inserted two regiments of the 45th Division as well as another on loan from Wyche's 79th Division; they backfilled the 45th's northern front with a combat engineer regiment, the 36th C, temporarily converted to infantry, and backstopped all of these forces with parts of the 14th Armored Division still under VI Corps control. Such complex switching completely entangled the 45th, 79th, and 70th Division forces.
By 4 January, for example, the 45th Division had crossed its extended front, from east to west, parts of the th and th Infantry organic to the 45th and elements of the th Infantry Task Force Herren in the Vosges; the th Infantry reinforced with battalions of the th and th Infantry, all from the 79th Division , elements of the th and th Infantry Task Force Herren , and the th Infantry organic along the eastern exits to the Vosges; and the 36th C Engineers together with leftovers from the th and th Infantry on its regular northern front.
Very quickly Frederick found himself trying to control eight different regiments, half of which had commanders and staffs that had never been in combat before.
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Although these hasty measures contained the advance of the German infantry divisions at least temporarily, they left very few troops to defend the Lauterbourg salient farther east. As American reinforcements met German attackers, the battle quickly turned into a bitter winter infantry fight focusing on the towns that lay along the snow-covered mountain roads.
Here at Lemberg, Sarreinsberg, Wildenguth, Wingen, Wimmenau, Reipertswiller, Mouterhouse, Baerenthal, Philippsbourg, Dambach, and a host of other tiny Alsatian mountain villages and hamlets, the Americans finally began to hold their ground.
Yet, even before the four attacking volksgrenadier divisions began to flag, Blaskowitz and von Obstfelder, the First Army commander, started feeding elements of the 6th SS Mountain Division "Nord" into the battle.