Important Battle: Epinal
After chasing the German Army through Southern France, the Moselle River stood between the Seventh Army and the territory of Alsace-Lorraine. Germans, during World War II, thought Alsace-Lorraine belonged to Germany. It was a territory taken by France from Germany after World War I, which Germany had taken from France after the Franco-Prussian War. It was populated mostly by German-speaking, French peoples, as well. This meant many of the German soldiers fighting in this area felt like they were fighting for their own home, and so they fought more fiercely to defend it.
The 45th Infantry Division was tasked with crossing the Moselle river and taking the city of Epinal. To do this the 157th Regiment attacked north of Epinal at Igney and the 179th attacked south of Epinal at Arches. The 180th Regiment had the hardest time, fighting head on through the city of Epinal. It took two days of fighting for the 180th to reach the western border of Epinal, and then they had to fight building to building to clear the town. The 180th was in a hurry though, because French spies had told them there were two bridges across the Moselle river that were still standing. These bridges could help the 45th get tanks and artillery over the large river.
The Germans realized they were losing, so they planned to evacuate and blow the bridges after they crossed. This only slowed the 45th for a day, as men crossed in boats and the 40th Combat Engineers built a Bailey bridge for the bigger trucks and tanks, all while being shelled by German artillery.
After taking Epinal, the 45th continued to liberate France but the Germans now fought to defend their homes.
A Bailey bridge, built by H company, 40th Combat Engineers, over the Moselle River in Epinal. The Bailey bridge used the pylons from the original bridge, which was destroyed by the retreating Germans, as its supports.
Image courtesy of Don Jackson
An 1884 French map of the Alsace-Lorraine region, which France and Germany had been warring over for 70 years by the time the 45th arrived. The Moselle River runs through Nancy and south to Epinal [not pictured].
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
This picture shows the destruction in Epinal shortly after the Germans withdrew. Residents built the small, plank footbridge to cross back and forth across the Moselle River.
Image courtesy of the Oklahoma Museum of History