Ft. Driant, Built In The 16th Century. It Has Never Been Taken. Not Even By Patton And The 3rd Army.

by Daniel Russ on February 23, 2015

Metz1944-2

 

 

Hand to Hand Combat. US troops of the 5th Army in street fighting at Metz.

 

September 27, 1944 P-47s under James Doolittle out of the 19th Tactical Air Command were awakened and growling on the runways inside US Occupied France. The Battle of Metz was about to begin. Metz is a historic and highly fortified medieval city in Northwest France. It accidentally lies at the currents of the Sielle and Mosselle Rivers and contains at a series of vital road ways skeining through junction of France, Germany, and Luxembourg. Roadways and railways and level hard ground were the key to a dynamic counter attacks in maneuver warfare. In days past, it was also contested by the largest armies in Europe. After World War I it was on the Siegfried Line, a series of defensive fortifications built during the 1930s across from the Maginot Line, and the Germans occupying these forts were well provisioned.

That said, the formidable Ft. Driant was constructed in the middle ages, and defended a township and castle that had not been taken since the mid 16th century. Tanks and planes notwithstanding, the castle was already really difficult to assault because of its configuration on the land, it’s open fields of fire and the thickness of its walls. Germans were protecting this medieval city of Metz and all the archeological gifts from ages before were slowly becoming the detritus of war. Sadly, every bomb destroyed the history of this amazing French town. It was vital to take the castle in order to take Metz. Patton planned to sieze the city and control vital roadways and the attack was going to be aggressive.

Few commanders attacked as aggressively as Patton did. The Wehrmacht was not ordered to hold Metz to the bitter end as other commanders were forced to do. Instead they were allowed to conduct a fighting retreat to slow the inexorable Allied forces. Few Germans had any faith in the notion that Germany could win, but they were determined, and able, to inflict the kind of casualties that could stop an army corps.

Patton was frustrated because for the previous two months, Patton’s 3rd Army and Walker’s 20th Corps were ground down by bad roads, mines, and really inclement weather. Patton loved Walton Walker and called him “the fightingest son of a bitch I have”. Incessant rain turned the roads into impossible to navigate rivers of mud and goo. Almost as dangerous as German tank rounds, the mud stopped tanks and made them useless. Troops had to clean the mud out of the gears and the trans-axle before heading back into battle. Tank fuel was hard to come by as the supply line attenuated in the weather. Patton was frustrated and felt philosophically that these delays were deadly because the Germans were able to reinforce. He felt he needed to keep them on the run.

Patton was pissed.

In typical fashion, Patton and Walker planned a huge counter attack and called it Operation Thunderbolt. While the Wehrmacht still had powerful panzers roaming the battle fields, by now they had lost their air cover. Russia was going so badly that most of the Luftwaffe was on the Eastern front. Panzers could hold off Allied tanks, not Allies aircraft. The .50 cal round cut through the tank’s armor. James Doolittle assembled the armored P-47 Lightning aircraft with eight .50 caliber machine guns and sent them in to help the 3rd Army smash German armor.

The battle for Metz began on the 27th of September, 1944 and lasted just over two bloody weeks until the 13th of October,1944. The plan was to send in aircraft to hit Ft. Driant first and hit it hard. Then over a thousand riflemen and tankers and engineers follow up. Two miles away, US field artillery opened up with 105mm and 155mm shells.

The town itself was a deadly network of tunnels and traps and gun ports. Most of the tunnel network was underground and not only hard to find, but hard to destroy. The Germans had artillery and high velocity anti tank guns in interconnected supporting lines of fire by 100mm and 150mm shells. Ft. Driant had cover control of most of the roads in the area.

When the 19th’s P-47s hit Ft. Driant the Germans retreated into the thick walls and survived the strike. Advancing US troops were cut down by fierce machine fire and the assault had to be called off.  Day after day the Allied troops were stooped in their track, and the new M4 Shermans with high velocity 76 mm gums were useless against the medieval castle. Even bombs dropped from strike aircraft and bombers had little effect.

The advances were so difficult, that eventually Patton decided to isolate the castle and go around it.

When the 3rd Army was hundreds of miles past Ft. Driant capitulated to the 5th Infantry Division on December 8, 3:45 PM.

It’s record of being held by troops versus captured by attackers since 1552, remained unscathed.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

T. J. Cassidy March 5, 2015 at 8:38 pm

Your caption says “5th Army”.

Daniel Russ March 7, 2015 at 8:14 am

This is correct. 5th Army was also at Metz

Louis October 11, 2017 at 4:40 am

“It accidentally lies at the currents of the Sielle and Mosselle Rivers”. Nothing accidental about that. As rivers were (and still are) major highways until the modern age, the city was placed there to get good access to other lands, and to control the flow of goods on the rivers.
“After World War I it was on the Siegfried Line, a series of defensive fortifications built during the 1930s across from the Maginot Line,”. Well, Metz was french after WWI so it actually was part of the Maginot Line.
“the formidable Ft. Driant was constructed in the middle ages”. According to Wikipedia it was constructed in 1902: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Fort_Driant

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