The Battle of Juvelise, September 22nd, 1944.
Prelude: Colonel Von Schellendorf stared glumly at the map spread over the turret of his tank in the early morning gloom and then cast a despairing eye over the remnants of his 111th Panzer Brigade drawn up in the surrounding fields. His worst fears about his green troops and their factory fresh tanks had been confirmed in the last few days fighting, and now the brigade could only muster two infantry companies supported by forty tanks and assault guns. Of those, only seventeen were Panthers and nine were venerable PzIVDs, suitable only for infantry support. If they had only had a couple of weeks with a defensive assignment, he might have had time to get them into shape, but 58th Panzer Corps had been ordered to eliminate the American bridgeheads over the Moselle and his brigade and its sister 113th brigade formed the strongest, if not the most combat effective, units of that Corps.
He had been ordered to continue the attacks despite losing over half his strength already and had now been directed to break through the American positions near the small town of Juvelise, carry on through Lezey and off into the rear of the US 4th Armoured Division. The Amis only had light forces screening the town, but Schellendorf knew that they were very adept at moving reserve forces and deploying their overwhelming air and artillery power to deal with counter-attacks. Driving down the main road, they could probably take Juvelise, but then they'd have to cross the valley under the covered positions at Lezey, by which time the Americans would undoubtedly have moved up some reserves. Well, his men couldn't deal with street fighting in two towns as well as an opposed steam crossing, but they could at least drive, so maybe it was time to change the Corps plan. He issued orders for his battalion and company commanders to assemble, and while waiting he consulted the supplement to his copious rules book dealing with such un-Prussian behaviour as 'stopping under fire' and 'running for cover' and his resolve to avoid a stand up fight hardened.
"Gentlemen, we have been ordered to break through the enemy positions. We shall strike hard and fast at Juvelise with the entire brigade, but once the town is secured, the bulk of the brigade will disengage and proceed back up the main road, then cut across the dirt track and behind the hill to cross the stream in the north. The motorised infantry and Stugs, supported by the heavy weapons company, will hold Juvelise and provide observation and fire against US positions in Lezey and the main North-South road. The rest of the brigade will drive north and then northwest. The Panthers will establish overwatch positions on the hills across the stream, while the other elements of the brigade press on. Maximum artillery support will be directed against Juvelise, then shifted to harrassing fire on Lezey once our assault goes in. Smoke ammunition will be reserved to cover the stream crossing and the section of ridge where the NW dirt track crosses it. We attack at 0945."He knew he was throwing his motorised infantry to the wolves, but if they distracted the inevitable American counter stroke sufficiently, he could perhaps get the rest of his brigade off the map. Who knows, perhaps they really could provide support fire from Juvelise against Lezey, at any rate, he couldn't let the Amis hold onto such a critical road junction and observation point, and the Stugs would give any American tanks something to think about. He could send all their empty trucks with the main force, but crossing that stream in the north under air and artillery attack was not going to be a picnic.
0945: The brigade moved forward slowly under the gloomy sky. The mechanised infantry company were supposed to advance slowly up the valley to the crossroads north of Juvelise while the motorised company drove its trucks as fast as possible to get onto the main road into Juvelise itself. The Panthers were heading for the hill north of the town and everyone else was heading for Juvelise itself. The heavy weapons company were redeploying to avoid enemy air attacks on their current positions. Already there seemed to be some confusion as various flak and engineer units repeatedly loaded and unloaded themselves. Schellendorf sighed as he watched their antics.
Almost immediately contact was made with the American cavalry screen, a platoon of Stuarts on the main road was slow in pulling back and was destroyed by the leading Panthers, in the south another Stuart platoon retreated, leaving one of its number burning and in the north there was a brief, intense firefight which left the platoon of 231 armoured cars destroyed or disabled, but also wiped out a platoon of M20s and forced another platoon each of M8s and Stuarts to retreat behind the hill. As the leading elements advanced, 150mm artillery fire began to walk through Juvelise, seeking out any residual resistance. A couple of Stuarts were spotted in the open and destroyed.
0955: The motorised infantry made it onto the main road as the Panthers pulled onto the hill north of Juvelise, where they came under long range fire from some Shermans on the edge of Lezey, Schellendorfs fears of a rapid response had been confirmed. As the barrage hammered with renewed intensity on the outskirts of Juvelise, the leading platoons of PzIVDs approached and the motorised infantry carefully calculated movement rates as their platoons got ready to charge. As the barrage lifted, the tanks entered the edge of the town and drove smartly back out again up the main road having knocked out a disabled M18. In the ensuing confusion of smoke and overrun attacks, the motorised infantry were able to charge right into the centre of Juvelise and dismounted in the same hex as a couple of M18s. One of the Stugs following up the infantry was hit by a long shot from some 57mm AT guns in the Salt Works and destroyed. With a foothold in the town, Schellendorf attempted to disengage the rest of his troops, the race was on!
1000: In Juvelise, street fighting raged, the infantry had knocked out one of the M18s and the crew of the remaining one were hosing the streets with MG fire. Astonishing numbers of Panzerfaust rounds had hit it, but it just would not die. The German artillery had now shifted hitting targets of opportunity in and around Lezey, particularly the Shermans on the edge of the town. The bulk of the German forces were well on their way up the main road now, the Panthers routed along the dirt track and the more vulnerable vehicles up the main road and behind the hill. One platoon of Panthers had managed to get pinned down on the hill north of Juvelise and there were various traffic snarl-ups as units got mixed up at road junctions. A single Stuart had retreated from Juvelise, pursued by a few half hearted shots.
1005: Nemesis had struck in the form a couple of devastating airstrikes on the ragged columns of vehicles straggling up the roads north and northwest. Several platoons of tanks and trucks were now running for cover or broken. The mechanised infantry had a lot of trouble with breakdowns, and the northern hill was littered with disabled halftracks. They at least had the benefit of putting up extra AA fire as the P47s swooped down. Schellendorf drove up and down the road trying to sort out the chaos. The only bright spots were that so far the Americans did not seem to have taken any measures to stop his drive to north with ground forces and his leading Panthers were well on their way to the stream crossing. In Juvelise the last M18 had finally succumbed to a Stug III firing at point blank range, though not before wiping out an 81mm mortar section that stumbled into its line of fire. The Germans were not given any respite to organise a defence however as a rain of mortar shells hammered the town, sending the German infantry running in all directions, while several groups of Shermans appeared across the valley.
1010: As his leading vehicles approached the stream, Schellendorf consulted his rulebook and was horrified to find that dirt tracks cross water via fords rather than bridges, with very high movement penalties. He had finally sorted out the chaos resulting from the air attacks, and his troops had even managed to drive back a move by some of surviving American reconnaisance units as they attempted to push into his rear. His Panthers were now suffering breakdowns, and he headed for the site of the river crossing as fast as possible see what was happening, athough an armoured car crew reported that they had actually exited the map and some of his Panthers were over the stream.
Back in Juvelise, American artillery fire joined the continuous mortar fire, but fortunately it was only 105mm without the same destructuve effects as the Germans 150mm. The Americans were not using any incendiary rounds either, and the German artillery and mortars had had some success in counterbattery shoots against the US mortars and AT guns, a couple of blazing wrecks appearing in the target zones. A tentative push by the Americans up the main road was repelled by a single Stug which knocked out a Stuart and a Sherman at close range and then pulled back, but the German infantry were in total disarry, particularly after airstrikes on the town.
1015: In Juvelise another American attack had been pushed back as half a dozen Shermans attempted to enter from the South. Two Shermans were destroyed for the loss of a Stug and a machine gun platoon, and the Americans pulled back to regroup. The Germans in the town were in a bad way, the relentless air and artillery bombardment coupled with the relentless tank attacks and direct fire from Lezey was wreaking havoc with their morale. The German artillery had fired off all its smoke ammunition to cover the river crossing and was now expending the last of it's HE to hit the American Shermans still in Lezey.
Back with the rest of the brigade, the leading Panthers were establishing their overwatch positions on the hills across the stream and suddenly spotted three entire batteries of M7 self propelled guns drawn up in nice straight lines only a few hundred metres away. The guns were firing salvoes of HE at Juvelise, and didn't seem to notice the Panthers lurching to a halt across the valley. Meanwhile some Shermans were spotted driving up the road to the east of the stream, presumably to cut the dirt track.
As Schellendorfs tank crested the ridge, he was appalled at the scene before him. He had already passed several broken down halftracks, but nothing had prepared him for the scene of total chaos at the river crossing. Tanks, trucks and halftracks were jammed together in an indescribable mess, some infantry units had dismounted to try and find a way through the jam on foot. To add to the confusion, a Panther had managed to bog down directly across the crossing on the opposite bank, and more vehicles were driving into the jam every minute. At least most of the Panthers were over the stream, and the Wirbelwinds were deployed to give AA cover, but US airstrikes and artillery could eliminate his command in a few minutes the way they were jammed together. He dismounted and ran shouting through the melee to try and bring some order to the proceedings.
1025: After the one of the worst 10 minutes of his career, finally Schellendorf breathed a sigh of relief, they had got away with it. Although an airstrike had sent some units running for cover, the bulk of the brigade was now crossing the stream in a more orderly manner. The Panthers had had great success, destroying 10 of the M7s for no loss and also destroying the Shermans east of the stream. The US recon units had reappeared in the rear areas, knocking out a flak battery, but a broken down Panther had destroyed some and driven off the rest. American tanks had gained a foothold in Juvelise, but had not pressed home their attack. One platoon of Shermans made it onto the dirt track and shot up some trucks, but in turn it was eliminated by a straggling Panther and a broken down PzIVD.
1035: Most of the brigade was now off the map, some Panthers remained to harrass the US Shermans still moving towards Juvelise and north towards the dirt track. In the town itself, street fighting raged as unsupported US Shermans overran the PanzerGrenadiers. Amazingly they continued to hold out, and one platoon at the eastern end of the main road supported by the two surviving StugIIIs managed to knock out several Shermans that tried to attack their positions.
1045: It was over, they were victorious. Fully five companies of tanks and infantry, with various brigade support elements had either exited the map or were on the verge of doing so. The infantry and Stugs were still holding out in Juvelise and the Shermans had pulled back. A US infantry assault seemed to be forming up, but had not yet gone in. The brigade had lost 12 tanks and SP guns, of which only three Stugs and two PzIVs were actually destroyed, it had also lost some armoured cars and several trucks and halftracks, plus several mortars and flak guns. Infantry losses, at 95, had been quite heavy, mainly in the defence of Juvelise. The Americans had lost or damaged around 40 tanks and SP guns and several armoured cars and halftracks. OB West had signalled that he was being credited with a moderate victory, and medals would be distributed in due course. As the column rumbled on down the road towards the Moselle, he allowed himself the luxury of a cigar, while he continued to scan the horizon.