87th Infantry Division
The Critical Assault on Goldbrick Hill
By Ed Jans & Mitchell Kaidy
first published: 87th Infantry Division Association Website
Towering over a vast stretch of eastern Germany, the hills
looked down on cities, rivers, mountain passages and tactical and strategic sites.
Most significantly, Hills 648 and 649 were bastions of Germany’s Siegfried Line,
a series of heavily-armed and mined bunkers dug into the hillsides.
After helping to free the besieged city of Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle
of the Bulge, the 87th Infantry Division
soldiers were exhausted. And their ranks had been thinned of experienced infantrymen.
Yet, acting under orders from Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, the two towering hills
were the 346th Regiment’s newly-assigned targets.
Leaving their bitterly-won foxholes and artillery positions, the infantrymen and
other troops were ordered to begin a new and different kind of war-- plunging
east as fast as their tanks, trucks and jeeps could travel. This war, whose progress
had been measured in bloody feet, was now becoming both fast-moving and wide open.
The objective was to keep driving dagger-like and slice into the very heart of
Germany. Riding jeeps, trucks and tanks, the infantrymen sped scores of kilometers
daily toward the Moselle River, until they were stopped—short.
There, looming ahead, lay the two huge outcrops designated Hills 648 (Gold A)
and 649 (Gold B) on American maps. Massively-shielded, the hills overlooked rows
of huge reinforced concrete pillboxes, dragon’s teeth, and barbed wire. Together,
these comprised the Siegfried Line.
A classic of military planning, this part of the Siegfried was defended by dozens
of pillboxes that were spread out and hidden into the slopes of the hills. It
was this array of concrete and iron clad structures, plus the topography that
Adolph Hitler’s generals, in the late winter of World War 11, had desperately
believed would halt the charging Americans who were now aiming a dagger at Germany’s
heart. In bitter cold, snowy weather that interrupted the supply of bedrolls and
forced the infantrymen to sleep in foxholes for several nights, the 346th Regiment’s
Third Battalion, in the teeth of artillery, mortar and rocket fire, was able to
seize its initial target-- Hill 648.
The defenses they discovered underscored the two hills’ tactical significance.
Strategically, however, the hills were also of critical significance: if these
key outcrops fell, the entire German supply route into the Schnee Eifel (snow
ridge) section of Germany would be jeopardized. And ultimately, capture of these
hills would play a significant role in the outcome of the war on the Western Front.
Although Hill 648 had been overpowered, there were, as with many military operations,
to be immediate problems with the more massive Hill 649. Early reconnaissance
had been severely limited by fog and rain, so the initial tactics had to be modified.
Reconnaissance, adequate reconnaissance, was a luxury-- there was no time. But
after a short pause, on Feb. 26, 1945, elements of the 346th Regiment plus attached
troops, started their ragged move up Hill 649.
Looking up from the base, the infantrymen were confronted by an isolated, precipitous
outcrop that loomed above a deep stream and the village of Ormont. Reconnoitering
had revealed that the first 200 yards were relatively flat, leading to a gradual
rise, then inclining steeply up to the last 200 yards. In their final assault,
the infantrymen, supported by tanks and armored vehicles, would have to mount
a ground shelf, making them especially vulnerable in their final charge to the
Comprehensively planned as the operation sought to be, the assault might defeat
the German defenders; but Hill 649’s natural obstacles also had to be defeated.
Though treed in places, in other places the outcrop was bare and trickily boggy
along most of the route.
Then there were the accompanying tracked vehicles. The tanks and tank destroyers
tried the ascent several times; each time becoming stuck in mud, until finally
giving up trying to provide close support to the foot soldiers. Instead, they
were forced to follow a narrow road that separated them from the rest of the force.
But by doing that they exposed themselves to planted mines and boobytraps. Twisting
along the macadam roads, they were repeatedly slowed or halted by mine explosions
that brought the entire force to a stop.
The vehicles also proved to be a negative in another way. Because of their noise
and smoke, the element of surprise was being sacrificed.
According to the 346th Infantry history recorded in 1945: "At 1:30 a.m. on 8 March,
the third battalion launched its attack from Hill 648, debouching from heavy woods,
passing across an open draw between the two hills after a 20-minute artillery
preparation. Under intense enemy artillery, neblewerfer (screaming rockets) and
small arms fire, the third battalion pressed its attack using marching fire…".
Although the first attacking foot soldiers captured some Germans who were still
digging foxholes, the noisy presence of the combined American force had signaled
the enemy to take cover behind their Siegfried Line fastness--barbed wire and
But with the foot soldiers marching and firing day after day, morning, noon and
night for almost a week, they finally reached the dug-in pillboxes. Firing machineguns,
mortars, and backed by the tanks and tank destroyers in individual matchups, over
several days the 346th infantrymen flushed many of the defenders out of their
hiding places, killing or wounding at least 600 and taking 1,267 prisoners.
At this point in the war (mid-March, 1945), it was clear that the Germans were
encountering difficulty in reinforcing their troops; so, as the battle wore on,
day after day the Americans noted fewer German defenders and fewer prisoners.
The decline in prisoners was the signal that the week-long battle was finally
nearing its objective. The capture of Hill 649 (popularly known as "Goldbrick
Hill" by the GI’s) paved the way for the 87th
Infantry Division to face its ultimate test assigned by
Gens. Patton and Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton— to leap the broad Moselle and Rhine
The bold, gallant and bloody victories at Hills 648 and 649 were estimated to
have advanced the timetable for the defeat of the Wehrmacht by at least two weeks,
and, based on daily death rates during the war, saved the lives of an estimated
360,000 German soldiers and civilians.
The price paid by the attacking 346th Regiment, which had suffered heavily in
the Battle of the Bulge, was 829 soldiers killed or wounded on Goldbrick Hill
(649) and Hill 648. Most of those soldiers were in their teens.