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Patton's Pawns

Tony Le Tissier
In Print
The University of Alabama Press (2007)

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This entry created 5 July 2012. Last revised on 5 September 2016.

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Patton's Pawns

The 94th US Infantry Division at the Siegfried Line

Rating: gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star no star no star no star no star (6.00)

363 pages. 26 maps and drawings. Black-and-white photos.

The US 94th Infantry Division entered WWII relatively late, so you might be forgiven in thinking that it only had a limited role in the fighting. This book demonstrates otherwise.

The 94th was a standard U.S. infantry division, different only in that a manpower shortage caused the closing of various army specialist schools, allowing an influx of "superior" recruits into the ranks of riflemen and other combat services. The division first saw combat in Brittany, but it had a static role in containing the surrounded Brest garrison.

As units were being reshuffled along the line due to the ongoing Battle of the Bugle, the 94th Division took over positions along the Siegfried Line - the German frontier, with its pre-war fortifications. They faced the Orscholz Switch, a spur from the main defensive belt designed to safeguard the city of Trier.

In frigid winter conditions, the 94th Division was tasked to "prove itself" by penetrating the defensive belt, but was initially limited to making small scale attacks with limited resources. The Siegfried Line defenses were designed to provide cover for a flexible German defense, providing a combination of anti-tank ditches, reinforcing machinegun positions, minefields and anti-tank dragons teeth, and a variety of "fighting" and "shelter" bunkers.

They were originally pitted against the German 416th Infantry Division, comprising an odd assortment of understrength infantry units, including training units, Luftwaffe replacements, and paratroopers. However, once the 94th Division began to penetrate the defenses, the Germans brought in the 11th Panzer Division to restore the lines. Thus began a series of grueling battles between German tanks and American riflemen, with the 94th Infantry Division sustained in the fight only by a constant series of replacements.

(Meanwhile, the Germans recapture lost territory and find their dead neatly lined up, wrongly suspect an atrocity, and Berlin Betty gives the division the nickname of "Roosevelt's Butchers.")

Finally, the 94th Division gets permission to make an all-out assault to breakthrough the remnants of the Oschultz Switch, this time partnered with the 10th Armored Division. This coincidentally comes just as the 11th Panzer is pulled out of the line, and the Allies exploit all the way to the Saar River.

Expecting to be withdrawn for rest and refitting, the 94th is instead ordered to make a hasty river crossing, before the Germans can adequately man the river fortifications. The Americans are ill-prepared and ill-equipped, the Germans are in disarray... but extensive numbers of bunkers, effective artillery support, and occasional aggressive moves by the enemy keep the Americans slogging away, desperate for supplies and armor support.

The fighting then moves into the hills and valleys, as German resistance again crumbles. The 10th Armored (with support from the 94th Infantry) take the city of Trier with hardly a fight. This sets the stage for one of the final German attacks of the war, as a mix of SS Mountain troops attack the weak and chaotic lines of the 94th Infantry Division in order to break the Allied supply line to Trier. In the Battle of Lampaden Ridge, the Americans grimly manage to hold on.

Again denied rest and refit, the 94th Division is part of the Race to the Rhine as the war in Europe comes to an end.

From a wargamer's viewpoint, this book excels at providing scenario material that is challenging for the American side, with the focus on infantry (with occasional armor support). For most of its fighting, the 94th was understrength and undersupported. For the Germans, the fighting is often defensive from fortified lines - with the exception of significant offensive action at the Switch, and again at Lampaden Ridge.

The book, however, does not provide all the information needed to create scenarios. It does provide useful information on the U.S. units involved (but not often down to troop strengths), and the maps are detailed in some cases on a bunker-by-bunker basis (but they are hard to read, in the edition of the book I have). Information on German forces is sketchy, with the exception of numbers of prisoners taken.

The book also provides some insights into relationships with higher command, and is often critical of Patton for keeping the men on the offensive and for his leadership style. In fact, commanders actually covered up a rout of an American unit, rather than face Patton's wrath.

If you are looking for inspiration for your WWII gaming in 1945, this is an excellent book to pick up.

Reviewed by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian.