02 October 2009
Germany 1945: nine days of hell on the Zerf road as the US 5th Rangers undertake their most arduous mission ...
The three US 5th Rangers who opened the Maisy Battery in Grandcamp-Maisy, Normandy in 2007 had more in common than their unit and the shared destiny of surviving the D-Day landing on Omaha Beach. In conversation during their visit and since then, all agreed that compared to the landing on ‘bloody’ Omaha the Irsch-Zerf operation in February 1945 had been a far more testing time, requiring reserves of stamina and endurance which they had not known until then that they possessed.
Irsch-Zerf. Hardly known beyond a diminishing group of survivors and those with an academic interest in military strategy, this action by the 5th Ranger Infantry Battalion is regarded as “one of the most successful Ranger operations of WW2”. (Dr Michael J. King, Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command and Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas).
Capture and hold the road between Irsch and Zerf
The mission saw the battalion ordered far out in front of the Allied lines close to the German border with Luxemburg. They were to capture and hold the main road leading to the German rear between the villages of Irsch and Zerf until the 10th Armoured Division could break through to continue the advance.
Led by Col. Richard Sullivan, another survivor of Omaha Beach, the operation was to take two days – in fact it was nine days before the Rangers were relieved and during that time they suffered 90 casualties, inflicted an estimated 300 German casualties and took up to 700 prisoners.
Trained by the British Commandos
Trained by the British Commandos, and honed to a level of iron-willed fitness which left them feeling almost invincible, those who survived Omaha and the months afterwards saw some hard fighting attached to different units as the Allies pushed the German lines back through France and the Low Countries.
From December 1944 to January 1945 the last great German offensive took place through the Ardennes forest. The Battle of the Bulge had caught the Allies unprepared and proved that the German army was still a formidable fighting force. Just south of the Ardennes lay the Saar-Mosel region where in February American units prepared to cross the river Saar and prevent retreating German troops from reorganising around the fortifications of the Siegfried Line or Westwall. The 5th Rangers were hastily extracted from the reconnaissance role they had been performing and assembled for their most arduous mission.
- A full version of this feature is published in the September/October issue The Armourer magazine. Order a copy by clicking here.