Fort Driant

The Siege of Fort Driant was, well, a catastrophe of epic proportions. The Fort was built in 1902 as one of many Forts circling the town of Metz, which lies in the Northeastern area of France, near the borders with Belgium and Luxembourg. Metz was situated at the meeting of the Moselle and Sielle rivers, and was an extremely important city for the Allies to capture on their way East towards Germany during the Fall/Winter of 1944.

The act of taking Metz, as well as the rest of Eastern France, fell upon General George Patton and his Third Army.

Patton knew that to capture and secure the city of Metz, which would allow him the easiest route into Germany, he would need to capture or sack the many forts surrounding the city. Unfortunately, siege warfare was not a regular part of US Army operations, not since the Civil War 80 years earlier. Not to mention Driant in particular, had been reinforced almost regularly since its creation in 1902. The only way into the Fort was a narrow Causeway that ran right into two very thick steel doors. Along the approach were ditches filled with barbed wire, numerous foxholes and pillboxes that were all connected via an anthill type tunnel system, mines, and debris designed to block tanks. In addition, the fort’s think masonic walls were capable of taking more of a pounding than their modern counterparts made of cement. Hydraulic elevators operated the many guns in the fort, allowing them to rise out of the walls, fire a few rounds, then sink back into cover, preventing sabotage from outside. Inside Driant, was a squad of the most tenacious SS troops Patton would ever meet during the War.

In addition to its own inherent defenses, the other forts in the ring provided an interlocking ring of fire, to protect each other from siege. When one fort was under attack, each fort would zero in on predetermined coordinates to ease the pressure on its sister fort.

That was what Patton had to deal with. To make his worries worse, supplies were running precariously low. As the First and Third Armies pushed East in their two-pronged assault, the Allied staging area of Normandy grew further and further away. Supply trucks were driving all day and all night, often with out the use of their headlights, in an effort to keep the push going. Oil was dangerously scarce. Hot meals became more and more rare for the troops in the trenches and foxholes. As the German defenses strengthened the further East they went, American Officers began shrinking to the rear areas more and more. Leaving their troops to fend for themselves, and fighting the battle via maps and theory. Many historians compare the Americans during late 1944 – early 1945 to how the British officers conducted themselves from 1914-1918.

Patton’s ego cost him a heavy toll this time around. After declaring Driant an easy target, he sent the 11th Infantry to take the fort, with no armor but limited artillery support. The artillery and air bombed the fort from dawn till 1400 hours, but the fort still stood. The 11th moved down the causeway un hindered for a few hundred yards, untill all hell broke loose. The GI’s quickly found themselves in a hornets nest of interlocking machine-gun posts, barbed wire, mines and hand grenades. The grunts found themselves being gunned down from the front, flanks and even the rear. Finally the men retreated.

The first assault was on September 27th, 1944. On October 3rd the second assault was made. This time they had a few new tricks up their sleeves. An alteration to the bangalore torpedos, renamed “snakes”, tanks with bulldozers on their front, and 4 flamethrowers were added to the list. However, the snakes all malfunctioned, doing little damage to the barbed wire. The tankdozers were decomissioned by mechanical failures, and only one of the 4 flamethrowers were operational. Regardless, Patton sent the remainder of 11th at the fort again. This time there was a bit more success. A company, led by Capt. Harry Anderson, managed to reach the walls, where Anderson found and opened a vent shaft. His men slid inside the fort, to find themselves in a barracks. The stone walls of the fort reverberated sound 10 fold, nearly deafening any man caught near a grenade blast, and the constant machine gun firing from both German and American weapons made ones brain rattle.

Outside, the hornets were stirring again. When the regular tanks pushed on, behind the few operational dozers, the Germans would pop up behind the tanks and fire at them with Panzerfaust (anti-tank weapon) rockets, knocking out the Shermans. The 11th scattered from constant surprise attacks and artillery fire. On the 4th of October, G Company managed to make it to the rear of the fort, where Capt. Jack Gerrie tried to knock out the steel doors. Cannon fire wouldn’t do it, and TNT couldn’t be placed close enough to the doors proper. More artillery fire from the other German forts sent the Americans seeking cover. On the 5th, after more artillery fire, Gerrie radioed in to his CO saying that the situation was critical and the siege needed to be abandoned unless better weaponry could be supplied.

On the 6th Patton threw another regiment into the siege. They obtained the same results: thousands of casualties with no results. After 10 days of fighting, Patton finally withdrew Third Army on the 13th of October. This was the worst defeat of Patton’s career, and his only during World War 2. It did him some good though, as he was able to learn from this gross underestimate of what the Germans were capable of when defending a fortified position. All told, the Americans lost an estimated 4050 thousand soldiers during the 10 day siege.

Patton would bypass the fort, and eventually capture Metz. Eventually all the forts around the city surrendered. Driant was he last one to fall, holding out untill December 8th, 1944.

Sources: The Victors, Stephen E. Ambrose; Simon & Shuster; London UK; 1998. Citizen Soldiers, Stephen E. Ambrose; Simon & Shuster; New York, NY; 1997.

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