WITH HILL 192 firmly in its grasp, the 2d Division had completed its limited mission in the drive for St-Lô. But for XIX Corps the attack of 11 July was just the start of a new phase, and all three of its divisions continued in heavy battle. The results for the next three days were meager in ground gained and high in losses. Rallying after the loss of a part of its fortified MLR, 3d Parachute Division offered a type of resistance that ended hopes for quick capture of St-Lô. West of the Vire, the remnants of Battle Group "Heintz" and the 30th Mobile Brigade were now stiffened by elements of Panzer Lehr, and were ready to continue the tenacious type of defense that had frustrated chances for breakthrough to St-Gilles.
What our units were experiencing in this fight, and what they were learning, is effectively summarized by an officer who went through it all and wrote from the standpoint of the front-line combat man:
There were just three ways that our infantry could get through the hedgerow country. They could walk down the road, which always makes the leading men feel practically naked (and they are). They could attempt to get through gaps in the corners of the hedgerows and crawl up along the row leading forward or rush through in a group and spread out in the field beyond. This was not a popular method. In the first place often there were no gaps just when you wanted one most, and in the second place the Germans knew about them before we did and were usually prepared with machine-gun and machine-pistol reception committees. The third method was to rush a skirmish line over a hedgerow and then across the field. This could have been a fair method if there had been no hedgerows.
Usually we could not get through the hedge without hacking a way through. This of course took time, and a German machine gun can fire a lot of rounds in a very short time. Sometimes the hedges themselves were not thick. But it still took time for the infantryman to climb up the bank and scramble over, during which time he was a luscious target, and when he got over the Germans knew exactly where he was. All in all it was very discouraging to the men who had to go first. The farther to the rear one got the easier it all seemed.
Of course the Germans did not defend every hedgerow, but no one knew without stepping out into the spotlight which ones he did defend.
It was difficult to gain fire superiority when it was most needed. In the first place machine guns were almost useless in the attack because about the only way they could be used was to fire from the hip. If you set them up before the advance started, they had no field of fire and could not shoot the enemy. If you carried them along until you met the enemy, still the only way to get them in position was to set them up on top of a hedgerow bank. That was not good because the German was in the next bank and got you before you set the gun down. Anyway, it had to be laid on the bank, no tripod, just a gun barrel lying unevenly on its stomach. On the other hand the Germans could dig their guns into the banks in advance, camouflage them, and be all set to cover the roads, trails, and other bottlenecks our men had to use.
The artillery was the major fire support weapon. But it suffered certain handicaps. In the first place it had to be adjusted from the front line by forward observers. These sometimes had difficulty knowing just where they were, and the trees frequently delayed adjustment because of the short vision. If you found the enemy in the next hedgerow he was frequently less than 100 yards from you, and that was too close for artillery fire, particularly since short rounds would probably burst in the trees over your men in your own hedgerow. If the enemy was two or
AN INDIVIDUAL FIRING POSITION near Villiers-Fossard. Even close up, such positions were usually difficult to spot, and enemy riflemen could shift quickly to alternate firing positions.
more hedgerows ahead of you, that wasn't so good either, because the mere delay in getting to him through that last hedgerow just in front of him gave him time to rise up and smite you after the artillery lifted. The mortars were effective providing you knew just what to shoot at and where it was, but the infantryman still had the delay and exposure of getting through the last hedgerow.
The Germans, being on the defensive, profited by these minor items of the terrain. They could dig in, site their weapons to cover the approaches, and prepare tunnels and other covered exits for themselves. Then when our men appeared, laboriously working their way forward, the Germans could knock off the first one or two, cause the others to duck down behind the bank, and then call for his own mortar support. The German mortars were very, very efficient. By the time our men were ready to go after him, the German and his men and guns had obligingly retired to the next stop. If our men had rushed him instead of ducking down behind the bank, his machine gun or machine pistol would knock a number off. For our infantrymen, it was what you might call in baseball parlance, a fielder's choice. No man was very enthusiastic about it. But back in the dugout I have often heard the remark in tones of contempt and anger: "Why don't they get up and go?"
The tanks are no better off. They have two choices. They can go down the roads, which in this case were just mud lanes, often too narrow for a tank, often sunk four to six feet below the adjacent banks, and generally deep in mud. The Class 4 roads were decent in spots, but only for one-way traffic, with few exits to the adjacent fields. An armored outfit, whether it is a platoon or an armored army, attacking along a single road attacks on a front of one tank. The rest of the tanks are just roadblocks trailing along behind. When the first tank runs into a mine or an 88 or 75 shell, it always stops, and it usually burns up. And it efficiently blocks the road so the majestic column of roaring tanks comes to an ignominious stop.
12 July 1944
The next step is to try to find out where the enemy gun or tank is, and wheel up a tank or so to shoot at him. The only trouble is, that probably only the men in the first tank saw his gun flash, and they aren't talking any more. The tanks trying to get into position to do some shooting are easily seen and get shot before they can do much about it. I have seen it happen. In the hedgerows it is almost impossible to get firing positions in the front row, and in the rear you can't see the enemy anyway so no one bothers. Usually the tanks waited for the infantry to do something about it.
Instead of charging valiantly down the road, the tanks may try to bull their way through the hedgerows. This is very slow and gives the enemy time to get his tanks or guns where they can do the most good. Then he just waits. And in the solution, there is always a minor and local problem to be solved, a problem which caused a certain amount of irritation, and that is, who is going over the hedgerow first, the infantry or the tank? It is surprising how self-effacing most men can be in such situations.
Anyone who actually fought in the hedgerows realizes that at best the going was necessarily slow, and that a skillful, defending force could cause great delay and heavy losses to an attacking force many times stronger. This, because the attacker can't use his fire power effectively and because he can't advance rapidly except on the road where he is quickly stopped at some convenient spot.
There were a number of other factors which contributed to the difficulties of fighting through the hedgerows. The area was merely a succession of small enclosed pastures with a few orchards, likewise enclosed by hedgerows. Seldom could one see clearly beyond the confine of the field. It was difficult to keep physical contact with adjacent squads, platoons, or larger units. It was difficult to determine exactly where one was. Unlike conditions in open country, flanks could not be protected by fields of fire. All these contributed to the difficulties of control and caused a feeling of isolation on the part of small units. All this meant that the front-line troops thought their neighbors were nowhere around. They could not see them, they were not in the adjacent field, therefore they were behind. Often this feeling of being out on a limb would cause the leading elements to halt and wait for the tank units to come up (and sometimes these were ahead).
German counterattacks in the hedgerows failed largely for the same reasons our own advance was slowed. Any attack quickly loses its momentum, and then because of our artillery and fighter bombers the Germans would suffer disastrous loss. In fact we found that generally the best way to beat the Germans was to get them to counterattack--provided we had prepared to meet them.
Limited Gains East of St-Lô (29th Division)
The 29th Division was still carrying the main effort, after its conquest of positions for driving west along the axis of the Bayeux-St-Lô highway. (See Map 13.)
The terrain in this area included three important, almost parallel, ridges, all running west from the height of land around Hill 192. One of these was 101, south of the Bayeux highway and held by the enemy. This ridge was little more than half a mile from the road, and its nose extended to within approximately two miles of St-Lô. The Bayeux highway ran along the second ridge, which carried the 50-meter contour line into the edge of the city. To its north was the Martinville Ridge, the crest less than a mile from the highway; Hill 147, labeled as its high point, was not a feature of any prominence. Between the second and third ridges was a steep-sided draw, followed by a small stream.
As a result of its breakthrough on 11 July, the 116th Infantry was on the two northern ridges, with its leading battalions facing west for the drive to St-Lô. The 2d Battalion was on the Martinville Ridge, close to Hill 147; the 3d had reached the middle ridge, on the big highway; the 1st Battalion during the night was moving up in the center to attack west, down the draw between the ridges. General Gerhardt's plan for this zone was to push the 1st Battalion ahead as far as the ground between la Boulaye and la Madeleine, while the other two 116th battalions finished cleaning up their objective areas of the previous day. (See Map 13.) Meanwhile, the 175th Infantry (3d and 2d Battalions) was coming in behind the 116th, ready to pass through and attack toward objectives south of the line la Madeleine-St-Lô.
But the day proved disappointing, and it became increasingly evident that the Germans of the 3d Parachute Division had organized a new MLR, slanting across the highway near la Boulaye and over the Martinville Ridge. Elements of three enemy battalions were estimated holding this line on the 116th front.
After hard fighting, the 2d Battalion of the 116th was able to get past Point 147 on the Martinville Ridge. The 1st Battalion (Maj. Thomas S. Dallas) fought into the draw south of 147, then became involved in a series of small battles in the hedgerows along the stream. The Germans counterattacked with three enemy tanks and two self-propelled 88's which moved along the draw blasting at the fields. Major Dallas' men countered with bazookas and brought in supporting artillery fire, knocking out two German tanks. But the 88-mm guns were elusive; the crews changed positions constantly, and their heavy fire caused many casualties. By the end of the morning the 1st Battalion was astride the draw just east of la Boulaye, but it made no further progress. To its left rear, the 3d Battalion fought all day to secure the ridgeline south of the highway, and had not entirely succeeded in this by night. Some of its difficulties, and many of its casualties, came as a result of intense artillery and mortar fire, made accurate by observation from the German positions on the 101 Ridge to the south, paralleling the St-Lô highway.
As for the 175th Infantry, that unit never got in position to start its attack, ordered to jump off at 1130. The problem of passing through other units to reach a line of departure, always difficult to manage, was complicated by the fact that the 116th units were so fully engaged along the route of approach. The 3d Battalion of the 175th, trying to move west on the highway, was unable to get through the 3d Battalion, 116th and stopped to lend it aid in attacking south to clear the ridge. Only late in the day, too late to attack, the 3d of the 175th came up behind the left of the 1st Battalion, 116th. At 1600 Brig. Gen. Norman D. Cota, Col. Ollie W. Reed, and Col. Charles D. W. Canham agreed on a scheme for using Colonel Reed's other battalion, the 2d. This was moved along the Martinville Ridge, behind Major Bingham, with the plan of striking southwest through la Boulaye. Here, again, the attack could not get started. Both battalions of the 175th suffered from enemy artillery and mortars.
In addition to mix-ups that came from intermingling of units, there were difficulties of communications. The attacking battalions were not sure of positions of neighboring units, or were misled by erroneous reports such as the announcement in the morning that the 1st Battalion, 116th had reached the eastern edge of its objective area (that is, near la Madeleine). Artillery fires were hard to arrange under these circumstances. Perhaps the most annoying accident of the day befell tanks of the 747th Tank Battalion, supporting the 116th Infantry. The Germans monitored all traffic over the network of the American tanks, and during the afternoon, cut in with an order in very good English to "report to the Regimental CP." The tanks took this order as valid and had started back for the 116th CP when Lt. Col. Stuart G. Fries headed them off and sent them back. The time lost contributed to the delays of the infantry.
The attack on the division right made some progress, though the 115th Infantry's efforts again met heavy enemy resistance. The 1st Battalion secured Belle-Fontaine, and the 3d reached la Luzerne. But the 2d Battalion, fighting on the west of the St-Lô-Isigny highway, ended the day without advance. Twice during the day it attacked across the stream at Bourg-d'Enfer and each time enemy artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire drove it back. When an enemy counterattack caused a platoon on the left to break, a rumor of withdrawal spread, and other platoons pulled out. This withdrawal was completely stopped and all men were ordered to reoccupy their own fox holes on the line of departure. Here the battalion was ordered by Colonel Ordway to reorganize and prepare to resume the attack. However, General Gerhardt decided against a resumption of the attack by this battalion. With la Luzerne captured by the 3d Battalion, the 1st Battalion went into a reserve position on the center of the now more narrow regimental front.
For the 13th of July, General Gerhardt planned to put his main effort along the Bayeux-St-Lô highway, to be delivered by the 175th Infantry.
MARTINVILLE RIDGE, as seen from the high ground south of it, on the parallel ridge followed by the St-Lô-Bayeux highway. Between them is a draw which becomes more pronounced farther east (right). The American positions on both ridges were under good observation by enemy posts to the south (101 Ridge) and were subjected to such heavy fire that movement along the high ground was difficult.
The 116th was to dig in and hold its positions on the Martinville Ridge (2d Battalion) and on the division left boundary (3d Battalion). The objectives for the 175th were the same as in the abortive attack of the previous day; the ridge area between la Boulaye and la Madeleine, and then the ground to the southwest near St-Lô. Jump-off time was at 0800. (See Map 14.)
The 175th started its attack without the expected tank support (the tanks had fueling difficulties) and bad weather canceled out a planned air strike. Powerful aid was given by Division Artillery, reinforced by Corps. Colonel Reed organized his effort in column of battalions; his 1st Battalion moved up to follow the others, to be committed only on orders from Division.
No sooner had the movement started than it was apparent that progress along the highway ridge was going to be slow and costly. The enemy, from the parallel ridge to the south, could observe the highway and direct his mortar and artillery fires with paralyzing effect. But movement off the road would encounter the usual series of hedgerow obstacles. It was near the end of the morning before the 3d Battalion had covered 500 yards and was abreast of the 1st Battalion, 116th. Behind it, the 2d Battalion, 175th was suffering heavily from the flanking fires. That was almost the extent of the day's advance, despite every effort by Colonel Reed to break the enemy grip on his route. He asked for, and received, a platoon of engineers with a bulldozer to cut a new route for 400 yards to avoid the highway on which the German artillery was registered so accurately. This artillery fire prevented use of the dozer, and most of the work had to be done
13 July 1944
slowly by hand. Our own artillery was asked for fires, including white phosphorus, along the enemy ridge, but had little success in reducing the German fire. Colonel Reed requested permission of General Gerhardt to use his 1st Battalion in attack south, toward Hill 101 hoping to protect the flank of his main attack. This request was denied since Corps was unwilling to have this last reserve committed. General Cota went down in the morning to help out, and reported back that, among other difficulties, "all of the 175thÝs communications just got shot to hell." He got permission from General Gerhardt to commit the 2d Battalion, 116th in an effort along the Martinville Ridge, hoping this would relieve enemy pressure on the 175th. But this attack was stiffly opposed and made only minor gains. Finally, late in the day, the 2d Battalion of the 175th attempted to swing south on the left of the 3d, widening the front of attack. This netted only 100 yards, and brought the day to a close.
That night, since XIX Corps proposed to halt the attack for a day, dispositions were made to regroup. The 175th Infantry took over the whole zone along the highway ridge, relieving the 3d and 1st Battalions of the 116th. The 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry, holding positions north of the highway abreast of the proposed LD for the 175thÝs attack, had suffered throughout the day from mortar and artillery fire. When the relief took place, the area was under such fire that the movement had to be accomplished by sending in four or five soldiers at a time. Under cover of darkness the 1st Battalion moved up on the Martinville Ridge to take that position over from the 2d Battalion. The 2d was withdrawn for a brief rest to an assembly area near St-André-de-l'Epine. Here, on 14 July, it received 125 replacements which raised it to 60 percent strength.
The fighting on the division right during 13-14 July found the 115th Infantry attacking southwest from la Luzerne; its objective was the southern edge of the hills, along the St-Lô-Isigny road, less than two miles northeast of St-Lô. The 3d Battalion, making the main effort, was stopped after a slight advance by enemy resistance centered in an orchard east of the highway. Automatic weapons, entrenched among crooked apple trees and hidden by matted foliage which hung to within three feet of the ground, held up the attack until the 1st Battalion was committed on the west of the road and advanced to a point even with the orchard. Only late in the day was the orchard strongpoint finally cleared.
By Field Order 6 on 13 July, XIX Corps had directed a change in divisional zones which would shorten the front of the 29th Division. Preparations to relieve the 115th Infantry in part of its sector were made on the night of 13 July by the 35th Division. The 134th Infantry, released from corps reserve, was moved into the left of the 35th Division front. The new boundary extended the 35th Division line to the St-Lô-Isigny highway. By 1000 on 14 July, the 1st and 2d Battalions, 115th Infantry had been relieved and moved east of the highway to the vicinity of la le Fossardière. The 3d Battalion held its position near the highway, in contact with the enemy below la Luzerne.
On 14 July, neither American nor German forces attempted large-scale action along the 29th Division's front. So bad was the weather, according to the Germans, that "it was possible to relieve units during daylight." The enemy confined his operations to the improvement of defensive positions, while the 29th Division readied itself for a part in General Corlett's "Sunday punch," a powerful and coordinated corps attack ordered for 15 July.
Seventh Army recorded defensive success on 12 July against fierce American attacks east of the Vire, but at cost of heavy losses. Neither II Parachute Corps nor Army had any reserves. The "continuous artillery barrage" is mentioned as a factor in the serious reduction of effective combat-strength, particularly in the 3d Parachute Division. As a result, Seventh Army was apprehensive over the danger of its front being torn open along the east boundary (Caumont sector). In case of further attacks east of St-Lô (said the daily summary) the lines at this boundary may "burst a seam."
COMMUNICATIONS PROBLEMS had to be solved quickly in order to keep advance going. Here, east of St-Lô on 13 July, engineers are working on a farm lane, and wiremen are stringing a telephone line.
On 13 July the claim was made that all U. S. attacks in the II Parachute Corps sector were "successfully repulsed," four tanks being claimed as destroyed in the battle. But even though U. S. losses were considered high, "our own were also high." II Battalion of the 8th Parachute Regiment relieved I Battalion of the 9th, and was so low on ammunition that it had to borrow from the units relieved.
The slackening of the battle on 14 July was interpreted as weakness in the American effort, resulting from heavy losses in the earlier fighting. The losses of II Parachute Corps through 13 July were now in, and Seventh Army listed them as part of the evidence of growing strain on its resources. The 3d Parachute Division, in three days fighting, had lost 4,064 men; the combat groups making up the 352d Division had suffered 986 casualties in two days.
Stalemate North of St-Lô (35th Division)
On 12 July the 137th Infantry resumed its attack on the stubborn enemy pocket near St-Gilles. (See Map 15.) The forward German strong-point, around the church, was still the job of the 1st Battalion. After a terrific artillery preparation, lasting 45 minutes and ending with a rolling barrage, the 1st Battalion drove through the church and the surrounding houses. Only three enemy prisoners were taken.
The 3d Battalion, bypassing the church strong-point and leaving it for the 1st to mop up, was aided by the end of resistance on that flank, but found plenty of opposition farther south and made small progress. The 2d Battalion fought most of 12 July around another enemy resistance center, a group of stone houses at la Petite Ferme,
MACHINE-GUN POSITION with abandoned German equipment in the sector where the 137th Infantry encountered such strong defenses. The firing slit through the hedgerow permits small traverse.
which changed hands several times during the day. This farmhouse proved as great an obstacle as the church at St-Gilles, and occupied the full energies of Companies E and F. Two tank destroyers had been attached to each battalion. They were not able to destroy the stubbornly-held enemy positions in the hedgerows; two of them became mired and another was disabled by a mortar burst. Late that evening Company G was committed on the left flank, but the day ended with the battalion still unable to advance after bloody fighting. On the left of the 35th Division front the 320th Infantry had made 200 to 300 yards advance in the day's fighting.
On 13 July, the two attacking regiments of the 35th Division again scored only limited gains. The principal reason, not realized until later advance had cleared the ground, was a German defensive system described by XIX Corps G-2 as representing a "school solution" for the enemy's problem of stopping our attack.
Just west of the hamlet of le Carillon (Map 16) the Germans had organized on a north-south nose of higher ground, between two small creeks, in a fashion not matched elsewhere on the division front. Using every advantage offered by the hedgerow terrain, they followed the principle of defense in depth. The main enemy positions began 500 yards from the northern end of the nose, on the line le Carillon-la Mare; from here, for 1000 yards to the south, the rising ground was organized as a defensive base. From it, small combat groups worked out to the north and on both flanks to prepared outpost positions; if
HEDGEROW DEFENSES in the salient near le Carillon. Here is a typical combination: at lower left, a dugout shelter for several men; center, a firing position for machine gun; right, gap for communication into next field, where rifle pits are cut in the bank. GERMAN MACHINE-GUN POSITION near le Carillon. At the right is the entrance to the shelter for use during artillery fire.
SUNKEN ROAD in the German strongpoint near le Carillon. This served for lateral communications, giving cover under which troops could be moved quickly through part of the defensive system.
pressed, they could retire easily to the base. The nose was only 50 to 100 feet higher than the low ground on the approaches from the north, and less than that above the draws to either side, but this was high enough to afford good observation, and enemy automatic weapons and mortars were sited to deliver effective harassing fires over a wider radius. Heavy hedgerow dikes and a few sunken roads gave the Germans opportunity for movement under cover from American artillery fire. Enemy forces in this area were estimated at about a battalion.
As it happened, German defense of this sector was further favored by the disposition of the 35th Division's attack zones. The boundary between the 137th and 320th Infantry ran through the organized strongpoint, putting the greater part of it in the 137thÝs zone. The result was that while two U. S. battalions were actually involved in the battle for this sector, they were in different regiments, and neither of them was hitting the German strongpoint squarely in a way that would reveal its full strength in the early attacks. The 2d Battalion of the 137th planned its main effort down the draw to the west; the 1st Battalion, 320th Infantry operated east of le Carillon. The two units were in contact only by patrols in the rear areas, directly facing the nose.
On 13 July, the 2d Battalion of the 137th attacked south astride the stream flanking the nose on the west--G Company on the left and E on the right. Each had a platoon of heavy machine guns and a section of 81-mm mortars attached. A platoon of medium tanks was available for the battalion. Tactics consisted of putting heavy concentrations of mortar fire on suspected enemy positions, then attacking by small groups of four or five riflemen who made liberal use of grenades and grenade launchers to get behind enemy positions.
At the end of the day, Company E had made about 600 yards, reaching the east-west lane through la Mare. Company G, on the side of the
VIEW FROM A GERMAN OP on the nose of high ground near le Carillon. This post was in a tree, looking north over the approaches to the German position. Even in hedgerow country, observation like this would give good opportunity for direction of the mortars and heavy machine guns located farther back on the ridge.
German Positions on la Mare-le Carillon Nose
creek near the rise of high ground, had much harder going and was 350 yards short of this lane at 1700. When F Company was committed to help G, it was able to advance only 200 yards and sustained such heavy casualties that it was withdrawn that night. All companies had been hampered by harassing fire from the higher ground to the southeast. On the other side of the nose, the 1st Battalion of the 320th, trying to push on south and east of le Carillon, was stopped by the severe flanking fires from enemy positions on the nose.
On 14 July, Company E of the 137th was able to get through three hedgerows against light opposition, but then struck fields bordered by sunken lanes and well defended. It continued attacking the rest of the day and advanced only one more field length. Company G managed to approach the east-west lane at which began the main enemy defensive positions and cleaned out the road intersection (Point 89), taking 60 prisoners and 9 machine guns. Finding the Germans well dug in along this line and beyond it in depth, the battalion commander decided to go back to the draw (that is, west) and attack up it, to outflank the enemy. Taking advantage of good cover in the draw, Company G managed to get up abreast of E. There it fanned eastward several hundred yards and resumed attack to the south. The company soon
discovered that its maneuver had not gone far enough to envelop the enemy positions, particularly the reserve line, dug in along another east-west lane. Several times Company G almost reached this lane, only to be forced back by heavy fire from the front and left flank. The battalion commander tried a wider envelopment by sending Company F west of E and then south, but this effort netted only one field. On the other side of the nose, the 320th Infantry was making even less headway on 14 July.
The problem of cracking this German strong-point was never really solved; success on other parts of the front settled the issue during the next few days. On 14 July, in accordance with XIX Corps' order to make the main effort near the river, the 137th Infantry had put all three battalions into line. The 1st Battalion took over the center, with the 3d on its right, each supported by a platoon of medium tanks, a platoon of tank destroyers, and Division Artillery. Attacking at 0800, they encountered thick mine fields and 88-mm fire, as well as zones covered by enemy machine guns. The right wing of the 137th Infantry nevertheless kept its advance rolling. The TD's, operating as assault guns, placed heavy fire on the hedgerows just in front of the infantry, knocking out 19 machine-gun emplacements and 4 mortar positions, and shaking enemy resistance. Late in the day, the 3d and 1st Battalions broke loose in a rapid advance that reached the Pont-Hébert-St-Lô highway. The regiment had suffered 125 casualties during the day's fighting, and lost 11 medium tanks. Fifty-three prisoners were taken.
This progress, and gains made the next day southeast of le Carillon (p. 102), were to undermine the enemy resistance on the center of the 35th Division's front. Though well organized and ably defended, the security of the German strongpoint near le Carillon depended on flank protection. This was compromised by breakthroughs both to left and right, leaving the Germans in a pronounced salient which would eventually be untenable.
In still another way, the day's gain along the right bank of the Vire had more than local importance. The 35th Division had now come far enough along the edge of the river to threaten the flank of enemy resistance at the Pont-Hébert crossing, and to assist effectively the 30th Division in its battle across the river.
Seventh Army noted, with satisfaction, defensive successes on the front of the 352d Division and its attached combat groups during 12-13 July. Army's only concern here was due to an embarrassing repeat order, coming down from Hitler, that the 352d Division be withdrawn from the battle zone and sent to rest and refit. Hitler had made the same demand before, starting in June, but Seventh Army had never found it practicable to withdraw the battered unit, even though concurring in the need for its relief. Now, such a move was more than ever impossible, since II Parachute Corps had no reserve in hand.
On 14 July the 352d lines finally gave, near the Vire, and the American penetration was only sealed off by employing the "last available forces." That evening Field Marshal Rommel visited the CP of the II Parachute Corps. The commanding general of that unit informed Rommel that, combat strength having been so seriously diminished through the total lack of replacements, the demand of the higher command to hold the present MLR at all costs could "hardly be guaranteed."
The Salient West of the Vire (30th Division)
The 30th Division, in its hard day of fighting on 11 July, had not only beaten off one wing of Panzer Lehr's desperate counterattack, but had also won a foothold on the highest ground of the north-south ridge between the Taute and Terrette Rivers. But it was still nearly four miles from its ultimate objective area, and attack would henceforth be canalized in a corridor of limited width giving little room for maneuver. Further advance along the ridgeline would be exposed at all times to observed artillery and mortar fires
from the high ground across both streams. Whether on ridge or lowland, hedgerows still prevailed everywhere to offer the enemy defensive advantages.
On 12 July, as he resumed his efforts to push south, General Hobbs was concerned over his flanks. (See Map 17.) While Panzer Lehr had been repulsed by the 9th Division, that unit had not been able on the 11th to advance far enough beyond le Désert to cover the right of the 30th Division. By maintaining a reserve of one regiment, General Hobbs had so far been able to guard against trouble on the two miles of open flank facing the Terrette River, and to keep in contact with the 9th Division by patrols. On the Vire flank the enemy lines across the river, south of St-Gilles, had already caused trouble for the 119th Infantry in its attempt to reach the Pont-Hébert-Belle-Lande area and secure the bridge on the St-Lô highway. Murderous fire from the salient across the river had held back both infantry and armor. The bridge at the crossing, a masonry arch, had been demolished but could still be used by foot troops. Here, on both sides of the river, enemy resistance was most determined, indicating the German desire to retain the Pont-Hébert crossing, still a route of communication between LXXXIV Corps and II Parachute Corps. In the 30th Division's zone, identified enemy units now included elements of the 902d Panzer Grenadier Regiment (of Panzer Lehr), and of the 2d SS Panzer Division, as well as the Reconnaissance Battalion, 3d Parachute Division. The bulk of the 2d SS Panzer had not been heard of for some days and was believed to be regrouping; 30th Division's G-2 thought it possible that the 2d SS Panzer was in reserve on this sector.
12 July was clear and warm. The 117th Infantry, given the assignment of attacking on the right, planned its attack in column of battalions, led by the 1st, with the 2d and 3d Battalions deeply echeloned to the rear for protection of the open flank along the division boundary. The 1st Battalion had passed through the 120th by noon and was meeting stiff resistance from dug-in positions, supported by 88's. The advance was held 1000 yards short of the day's objective. A mile or so to the right rear, the 2d Battalion encountered an enemy strongpoint on the flank of its route of advance and spent the day trying to overcome it. At 2045, it launched a full-scale attack, and was making headway when Division ordered the 120th to take over that area.
The 119th had one of its hardest days of the offensive. Its right wing (2d Battalion) made some headway along the ridge, and by night was up near the 1st Battalion, 117th, though not in firm contact. But the 1st Battalion, trying to get past the Belle-Lande-Pont-Hébert highway and seize the river crossing, was unable to get anywhere all day, and took painful losses in trying. Its zone of attack was along the slopes bordering the Vire, open ground exposed to enemy fire across the stream. By noon this fire was building up, and the 119th even reported a counterattack from the bridge area, involving enemy use of smoke and flat-trajectory fire. Eighteen battalions of supporting artillery were soon blanketing the shore opposite Pont-Hébert, but Division and Corps Artillery were handicapped in getting at the enemy farther north along the river, because of uncertainty as to positions of 35th Division units which were reported (erroneously) almost down to the crossing. Some elements of CCB were still helping the 119th and they too were punished by German fire across the river, losing several tanks.
The units of the 30th Division had suffered heavily on both wings. This was due to a combination of factors. The division was moving southwest along a narrow ridge making its main effort on the left. The 9th Division was making its main effort on the right and the broad front of that division required the employment of its three regiments abreast. As a result the valley of the Terrette was never properly cleared. Since the river itself was not large enough to constitute an obstacle to enemy maneuver, the presence of the enemy in the wedge between the division slowed the advance of both. Furthermore, both the 9th and 35th Divisions had been committed
West of the Vire
12-14 July 1944
later than the 30th and, in the difficult terrain against heavy opposition, had not had time enough to come abreast.
With both flanks thus exposed, the 30th Division was getting into a dangerous position. Its lead units were not in physical contact; it was feared that they might be facing another armored counterattack. At midnight General Hobbs reported to Corps that he believed it unwise to push farther south next day, and would rather wait until neighboring units pulled up abreast. Corps advised him to make vigorous demonstrations in the morning, but no push until his left flank was covered. With this in mind, General Hobbs called Colonel Kelly (117th Infantry) and told him to get firm contact on his flanks, but prepare to attempt little more on the next day. Division orders, issued soon after, confirmed these arrangements. The 117th and 119th were to establish an MLR on their present front along the ridge, and the 119th was to make another effort to clean up Pont-Hébert and the bridge area. Combat Command B would remain in place at Hauts-Vents, and the 120th, in division reserve, would watch the right rear toward the west.
Despite these limited objectives, 13 July proved another trying day for the 30th Division. The day began with a counterattack from within its sector along the Terrette River on the deep right flank, which hit the 2d Battalion, 117th Infantry and produced some alarming rumors for an hour or two. By 1000 it appeared that the 2d Battalion had only withdrawn one hedgerow to avoid mortar concentrations, and was now back on its original positions, after losing two company commanders. All along that flank, the 117th was still some distance from the divisional boundary. But, Colonel Kelly reported, the Germans held excellent firing positions across the Terrette, which were already causing his men heavy casualties; to push to the boundary line would only cause more losses. He wanted to hold commanding ground above the Terrette and stop with that. General Hobbs fully agreed. On the Vire flank, nothing was undertaken during the morning, but the 119th nevertheless continued to suffer heavily from fire across the river, and General Hobbs could not solve the problem of neutralizing the east bank with artillery fire since the 35th was attacking into that zone. Toward noon General Hobbs complained to General Corlett that the 1st Battalion of the 119th was down to 50 percent strength, largely because of the effects of flanking fires. Despite all efforts by corps and both divisions, artillery fire could not be laid on effectively. When the 119th made another effort at 1500 to reach the bridge, it gained only 150 yards.
Altogether, these two days of 12-13 July had been in some respects the hardest in the 30th Division's week of fighting. Stiffened by elements of Panzer Lehr (902d Panzer Grenadier Regiment), and on 12 July by the reconnaissance battalion of a newly arrived division (3d Parachute), the Germans were now putting up the toughest defense that General Hobbs' men had met since crossing the Vire. The enemy had made full use of the hedgerows to organize a new MLR, with prepared positions, across the north-south ridge between the Vire and Terrette Rivers. Along the Terrette, units of the 2d SS Panzer and Panzer Lehr were fighting hard, throwing in counterattacks at every chance, to secure their flank on the Terrette while they battled the 9th Division farther north. Enemy artillery, including fire from an estimated two battalions of 105Ýs and two of 150Ýs was reinforced by Mark IV tanks, dug in and used defensively, and by mobile 88's. Even the forces of Combat Command B, holding their hard-won ground at Hauts-Vents, suffered casualties from enemy fire coming in from both flanks as well as the front. 30th Division Artillery waged relentless counterbattery duels, firing 28 missions on 13 July, and cooperating with 35th Division artillery against the German salient east of the Vire.
The 30th Division casualties for 12-13 July, during which time they were not pressing the attack on a scale like that of previous days, amounted to 961; of these, over 400 were in the 119th Infantry, where officer casualties had been especially severe and one company was commanded by a sergeant.
THE PONT-HÉBERT BRIDGE, in a sector bitterly defended against the attacks of the 119th Infantry. The bridge had been wrecked, and our engineers built a new one. The survival of the church steeple is unusual, and is due probably to the fact that, lower than the hills along the river, the tower had little value as an OP.
In the 120th, the strength of one of the companies was down to 70 men. Losses since 7 July for the division had now reached 2300 though replacements were beginning to come in and were to total 940 by the 14th.
All these factors weighed very heavily on General Hobbs, and in addition, by 1900 on 13 July, he was receiving information indicating a possible build-up for enemy counterattacks from the south.
Finally, at 2117 his mind was relieved by a telephone message from General Corlett: the 30th was to "take it easy" the next day, while the 35th tried again to pull up to the Pont-Hébert crossing.
For the first time in a week, the 30th Division issued no attack orders. On 14 July, action was limited to a few minor moves to effect readjustment of lines. Firm contact was made on the ridge between the 119th and the 117th. On the
Vire, the 119th at last pushed the enemy past the Pont-Hébert road and got definite control of the ruined bridge, just as the 35th Division (p. 86) fought up to it on the other bank. The right flank problem was partly solved by success of the 9th Division on 14 July. That unit, beyond the Terrette south of le Hommet-d'Arthenay, was pushed down toward the 117thÝs flank. The 120th Infantry, in reserve, was able to take its battalions back for shower baths in the St-Jean-de-Daye area. But the respite would be short. The big attack of 15 July was coming up, and the 30th Division staffs were working full time to ready their plans.
Seventh Army had little to say about this sector of its strained lines, beyond recording defensive successes at Pont-Hébert, which it believed still held by German forces at the end of 14 July. Army's attention was focused farther west, on the American advance (9th Division) southwest and west of le Désert.
First Army Progress, 11-14 July
The hard battles of VIII Corps finally produced their fruits in this period. (See Map VII.) As the three attacking divisions broke past the rough la Haye-du-Puits-Mont-Castre hills, where they had cracked the enemy's MLR, they found resistance less and less tenacious. On 14 July, VIII Corps came up to the line of the Ay River; it had reached the initial objectives prescribed in its attack order, a gain of 12,000 yards in 12 days of battle. But the corps was still far short of its assigned ultimate objectives when orders from First Army stopped the attack at the positions then reached.
In the VII Corps zone, the 4th and 83d Divisions continued to shoulder along the Carentan-Périers highway, more and more aided by the pressure exerted from the east by the 9th Division. On 13 July, that unit drove nearly to the important crossroads at les Champs-de-Losque. By 15 July, as a result of the hardest kind of fighting, the 4th and 83d were on a line just north of Raids and held the Sainteny hills which had been their main obstacle. But ahead of them the enemy still held strong defensive positions, and had shown no signs of making a voluntary withdrawal. The cost to VII Corps of getting some six square miles of ground along its peninsula had been high. From 9 to 16 July, the corps lost 4,800 men; by 15 July the three regiments of the 4th Division had suffered 2,300 casualties, including three battalion commanders and nine rifle company commanders.
First Army now called a halt to the offensive west of the Taute, holding VIII and VII Corps (except for the 9th Division) at the positions reached on 14-15 July. Definite plans for a major breakthrough operation (COBRA) were being made, the outline plan reaching First Army on 13 July. The offensive now under way was to continue, but would aim at more modest objectives which would give suitable jump-off positions for COBRA. The primary goal became the ground along the St-Lô-Périers highway in front of the 9th and 30th Divisions. At the end of 15 July, the 30th Division was to come under VII Corps in order to coordinate the continuing offensive toward this area.
During the 12 days from 4 to 15 July, ammunition expenditure was greater than at any other period during the first two months of First Army's campaign. This occurred during a period when control was being exercised and unrestricted firing was not permitted, when units were limited to one unit of fire for attack, one-half unit for each subsequent day of attack, and one-third for a "normal" day. But deeper and wider concentrations of fire than was ordinary had to be employed in hedgerow country to compensate for lack of observation. Stocks became low in certain types, particularly 105-mm howitzer, and strict rationing was established to restore the stocks for the coming operations. Fortunately, the port of Cherbourg, although thoroughly mined and demolished by the Germans, had been rapidly cleared for use. The first supplies from it began to trickle south on 15 July. Cherbourg was to prove an essential aid, in the next weeks, to the
JUMP-OFF GROUND FOR COBRA. This view looks south from les Champs-de-Losque in the direction of the St-Lô-Périers highway. When the 9th Division conquered this terrain as far as the highway, it was out of the swampy ground along the lower tributaries of the Taute River. In the general area shown here and just to the left, VII Corps collected striking forces (four infantry and two armored divisions) for the breakthrough drive of 25-26 July.
supply problem. But the main ports of entry were still the open beaches, Omaha and Utah, where the 1st, 5th, and 6th Engineer Special Brigades were performing miracles in getting tonnage ashore under all conditions of weather. A daily average of 12,000 to 14,000 tons was being maintained.
Seventh Army's anxiety over its new problems east of the Vire have been noted already. In spite of the losses around St-Lô, both in ground and personnel, Seventh Army was still mainly concerned over the situation on the right wing of LXXXIV Corps, where it believed the American forces were making their chief effort toward the Périers-St-Lô highway. But with Panzer Lehr's failure to restore the situation by counterattack, the German command now had no other recourse than a grim and dogged defense.
The withdrawal on the coastal wing, approved on 11 July and scheduled for execution on 13-14 July, was being forced earlier than that by the continued American pressure. By 13 July, weakness on this wing was so apparent that LXXXIV Corps asked permission to carry the withdrawal even farther back, behind the Ay-Seves river line. Army Group grudgingly approved, ordering unconditional defense of this line, and refusing consideration of any further request for retrograde movement. The disengagement was effected that night without much trouble. The 353d Infantry Division (less the Battle Group near St-Lô), at full combat strength on 3 July, was now worn down to 34 officers, 69 NCO's, and 583 enlisted men, including all personnel that could be brought in from rear echelons and staffs. The 15th Parachute Regiment, also at full strength when it began the battle in the Mont-Castre sector, had 447 officers and men.
In the area covering Périers (U. S. VII Corps zone), LXXXIV Corps' best units were fighting
hard to hold off a breakthrough, and were steadily losing ground. This sector was Seventh Army's chief worry, even after the battle spread east of the Vire. The battered 17th SS Panzer Grenadier and the larger part of 2d SS Panzer and Panzer Lehr were now involved here in defensive struggles. By 12 July the German salient along the lower Taute had been wiped out, and the pressure from le Désert was threatening to reach the flank of units holding the Seves-Taute corridor. Further loss of ground was acknowledged in the next two days.
With regard to reserves the situation was as strained as ever. Two more regiments (13th and 14th) of the 5th Parachute Division arrived in the battle zone during this period, and Seventh army had to resist calls from both LXXXIV and II Parachute Corps for their immediate use. Seventh Army decided to put them west of the Vire, in position to reinforce the Périers sector. As soon as possible, the 5th Parachute Division was to replace Panzer Lehr; Seventh Army, now as before, was striving to build up a striking force of armored reserve. But within a day, one or two battalions of the 5th Parachute Division had already been committed to help the sorely pressed 2d SS Panzer.
The other reinforcing column, comprising parts of the 275th Division, finally reached Marigny on 14 July. Plans for its use aimed at relief of the 2d SS Panzer units. But all these plans were subject to the pressure of battle needs, and also to the whims of higher command. As noted before, Hitler himself had been intervening since June to get certain units out of line for rest and refitting before they were destroyed. On 12 July, his formal orders came down to withdraw immediately the remnants of the 77th, 91st, and 352d Divisions. As before, Seventh Army promised to carry out their relief as soon as possible, but found it necessary to keep them in line for the time being. There were no units available to replace them.
Seventh Army's cares included defense of Brittany, controlled by what was left of two Corps, and that problem was becoming more and more troublesome. On 6 June there had been eight divisions in the peninsula. Several of these had been withdrawn to reinforce the Normandy battle, and others had been bled steadily of their mobile units. As a result, Seventh Army now found it impossible to control large stretches of the interior against steadily increasing activity of the French Resistance groups. Remnants of the 265th Division still in Brittany had a sector 250 miles wide to protect. In case of invasion of the peninsula, Seventh Army frankly admitted that the most that could be done would be to withdraw and defend the fortresses guarding the chief ports.
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