An Opportunity to be Better - Chapter 1 Page 3

Left: Allied forces (blue) on July 2, 1944; right: Allied forces on September 1, 1944. Patton's army was poised near the stronghold of Metz, France. He was told to wait for the other armies to arrive to protect against being flanked by German forces indicated as red arrows.

The deception which caused the Germans to assume the attack would be at Calais allowed the Allies to gain a foothold in France. But by July, the deception was fully exposed and Patton left Britain for France.

On August 1, he took command of the newly-formed Third Army. Its assignment was to head straight for Berlin. Although many of its men were new, the Third Army was far more successful than headquarters had expected. The schedule had been to capture Paris by December. Instead, after one month, it had passed Verdun and was pressing on toward Metz near the German border. This success was due in no small part to the help from the French Resistance.

But stretched supply lines meant the Third Army's demands for fuel and munitions could not be met. Patton was ordered to pause. Headquarters was afraid he might expose the army to a flanking action.

While waiting, Patton pondered what to do about Metz.

It was heavily protected with two rings of forts. He considered placing it under siege while the remainder of the army moved forward. But that would take a lot of resources. He decided Metz had to be captured.

In early September, the offensive began, and by December, it was largely over. Our story concerns just one small part of this battle - a part on the northwest perimeter of the outer ring.

The forts - blue dots - around Metz.
Fèves' forts within yellow circle.

Located about six miles to the northwest of Metz was a tall ridge densely covered by trees. In those trees near the top of the ridge were several hardened forts. Fort de Fèves was the farthest to the northeast and was primarily an observation point to direct artillery fire from other forts in the area.

The steep face of the ridge meant certain death for an attacker. So artillery and bombing missions were used in an attempt to destroy the forts. But poor weather, poor maps, and the hardened condition of these forts meant they were virtually unaffected.