Battle of Lanzerath Ridge - Background


Prior to the Battle of the Bulge, the U.S. Army was engaged in a campaign to attack the Roer River dams before invading the rest of Germany. The 99th Infantry Division was supporting the 2nd Infantry Division in their attack on the German West Wall at Wahlerscheid. During two days of hard fighting, the U.S. Army had finally managed to slip through the heavily fortified lines and penetrate the German defenses. The Americans were expecting a counterattack in the area, but their intelligence completely failed to detect the German's movement of hundreds of armored vehicles and tens of thousands of infantry into the region. Much of the region was relatively quiet, lending the area the title of "Ghost Front."

During early December 1944, the American's defensive line in the Ardennes had a gap south of Losheimergraben. General Leonard T. Gerow, in command of V Corps, recognized this area as a possible avenue of attack by the Germans. This area, which lay between V Corps and Troy H. Middleton's VIII Corps, was undefended; just patrolled by jeep. The patrols in the northern part of the area were conducted by the 99th Infantry Division's 394th Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, whereas those in the south were conducted by the 18th Cavalry Squadron, 14th Cavalry Group, which was attached to the 106th Infantry Division.

In the border area between Germany and Belgium, there was only one road network that could support a military advance: It was through the area known as the Losheim Gap, a 5 miles (8.0 km) long, narrow valley at the western foot of the Schnee Eifel. This was the key route through which the German Sixth and Fifth Panzer Armies planned to advance.

On December 11, General Walter M. Robertson, commander of the battle-hardened 2nd Infantry Division, was ordered to attack and seize the Roer River dams. In case he had to pull back, he chose Elsenborn Ridge as his defensive line. General Walter E. Lauer, commanding the 99th Infantry Division, was charged with building up the defenses around Elsenborn Ridge. Lauer knew his front was very long and very thinly manned; he gave instructions to his division's soldiers to dig in and build cover for their foxholes.

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