St. Malo and the North Shore
The Decision at St. Malo
Anticipating quick capture of Brest, General Patton had acted to preserve the Brest-Rennes railroad as a fast means of transporting military cargo into the interior of France. The railway, running generally along the Brittany north shore, could be cut quite easily by destroying any of several important bridges. Patton had created Task Force A to secure the vital bridges before the Germans could demolish them.1 (See Map VIII. )
Task Force A had a strength of about 3,500 men. Its headquarters, the 1st Tank Destroyer Brigade, controlled the 6th Tank Destroyer Group, the 15th Cavalry Group, and the 159th Engineer Battalion. The task force commander, General Earnest, had requested an infantry attachment, but no infantry was available during the hectic early days of August. The possibility that Task Force A would make contact with a substantial number of French Resistance forces provided hope that the FFI would perform such infantry functions as line of communications guard and command post security.
At a conference with his principal subordinates on 1 August, General Earnest announced that Patton expected Task Force A to "race to the sea" to secure the main railway bridges and incidentally help the 6th Armored Division capture Brest. Proceeding from Avranches through Dol-de-Bretagne, Dinan, Guingamp, and Morlaix, the task force was to bypass resistance except at the bridges. Three structures near St. Brieuc and two near Morlaix comprised the specific objectives. All task force units were to carry rations for six days, fuel for two hundred and fifty miles, a basic ammunition load transportable in organic vehicles, and water chlorination tablets.2
Through the Avranches-Pontaubault bottleneck by early 3 August, Task Force A entered Brittany and struck resistance almost immediately at a point two miles short of Dol-de-Bretagne. The cavalry commander was lost at once, his jeep later found riddled with machine gun bullets. Since the task force was supposedly following the 6th Armored Division as far as Dinan, meeting opposition was somewhat of a surprise even though General Earnest had expected that small enemy units might hit the task force's flanks. Learning from civilians that Dol was strongly defended, Earnest decided to bypass the town on
the south and continue westward. He requested VIII Corps to send infantry to reduce the bypassed Dol defenses.3
Interested in the strength of the St. Malo defenses, General Middleton instructed Earnest to probe northward toward St. Malo even as he drove westward toward Dinan. Beyond Dol-de-Bretagne, Earnest therefore split his column. The heads of both columns struck defensive positions about seven miles west of Dol, near Miniac. Some disorder occurred among U.S. troops engaging in combat for the first time, but Earnest quickly restored discipline and directed his cavalry to dismount and launch an infantry attack. Enemy resistance was quickly broken, but as the task force tried to push toward St. Malo, increasingly heavy resistance developed south of Châteauneuf-d'Ille-et-Vilaine.
Since the strong enemy forces defending the St. Malo-Châteauneuf-Dol area might involve Task Force A in an action that would prevent a rapid westward drive, General Earnest radioed for help. Aware that the VIII Corps had alerted the 83d Infantry Division for action in Brittany and believing that the 6th Armored Division was not far away, he called upon both the corps and the armored division in the hope that one would respond. "Please reply, need urgent," he radioed. "Rush troops."4
Infantrymen were in fact approaching Dol-de-Bretagne on the afternoon of 3 August, for early that morning Middleton had ordered the 83d Division to hurry a regiment to Pontorson so thatthe regiment alone or the entire division, according to the way the situation developed, could follow the 6th Armored Division to Brest. The 330th Infantry reached Pontorson that afternoon and continued to Dol. Extensive defensive positions around Dol, including wire entanglements and antitank ditches, prompted the regiment to delay its attack until the morning of 4 August, but then the town was quickly secured.5
Although the 330th Infantry moved west beyond Dol-de-Bretagne for several miles without meeting resistance on 4 August, Task Force A pushing north that afternoon toward Châteauneuf-d'Ille-et-Vilaine encountered severe opposition, including fire from coastal guns and naval vessels in the St. Malo area.6
By this time a decision had to be made on St. Malo. General Bradley at first had specifically ordered the capture of St. Malo. When General Patton made no provision for its capture, Bradley had more or less acquiesced in Patton's concept of clearing the entire peninsula before getting involved in siege operations at the port cities. General Middleton, however, was becoming increasingly concerned over the large concentration of German troops in the St. Malo area. Bypassing the strongpoint in favor of more distant and alluring goals would not eliminate what might develop into a threat against the long lines of communication that would have to be established in Brittany. Allowing strong German forces to remain active at St. Malo would be like permitting a sore
to develop into a cancer. Middleton favored immediate surgery.7
General Middleton's inability to obtain the 6th Armored Division to help Task Force A and the 330th Infantry prompted him to give the assignment of capturing St. Malo to General Macon and the 83d Division. Then Middleton learned that Patton was unwilling to let more than one regiment of the 83d participate in the attack, for Patton believed that the Germans would make only a token defense of St. Malo. Patton wanted the 83d Division to follow the 6th Armored to Brest and Task Force A to sweep the Brittany north shore.8
Developments in the St. Malo region on the morning of 4 August seemed to support Patton's view, since Germans manning outpost positions that comprised the outer defenses of the St. Malo fortress withdrew north toward Châteauneuf, a move that appeared to presage a show of force before capitulation. The experience of Task Force A that afternoon led to quite the opposite conclusion. The Germans had evidently withdrawn to consolidate and strengthen their defenses. Whatever the German intentions, it was obvious that the Americans needed additional troops around St. Malo.
Hoping that immediate, resolute action might achieve the desired result, Middleton ordered Macon to bring the entire 83d Division into the area to make a co-ordinated attack in conjunction withTask Force A. If St. Malo fell at once, Middleton would attach a motorized infantry battalion of the 83d Division to Task Force A and send Earnest off to fulfill his original mission.9
The result of the attack on 5 August proved that the reduction of St. Malo would take some time. Unwilling to hold Task Force A any longer, Middleton ordered Earnest to break contact during the night of 5 August and on the following morning to continue his mission of sweeping Brittany's north shore. In exchange for a platoon of tank destroyers that Earnest left with the 83d Division, he secured a motorized infantry battalion and a battery of 105-mm. howitzers. A medical collecting company from corps would join the task force on 8 August.10 In the matter of time, the effect of the diversion to St. Malo on Task Force A was double that imposed on the 6th Armored Division; it delayed Earnest's westward drive about forty-eight hours.
Sweeping the North Shore
Slipping out of the St. Malo area during darkness, Task Force A bypassed Dinan on the south and moved westward on 6 August toward St. Brieuc, thirty miles from Dinan.11 Contact was made that afternoon with FFI groups commanded by Colonel Eon, who was already in possession of St. Brieuc. Task Force A found the three bridges near the town intact, and General Earnest detailed an engineer company to guard
them and to operate a prisoner of war enclosure.12
At Châtelaudren, ten miles west of St. Brieuc, Task Force A quickly overran about a company of Germans on the morning of 7 August and, accompanied by men of the French Resistance, continued five miles beyond toward Guingamp. Mine fields and antitank obstacles outside Guingamp prompted a halt. Part of the cavalry and some FFI had meanwhile made a wide detour to envelop Guingamp from the south and after infiltrating the town reported that some Germans remained but that the greater part of the garrison had withdrawn to the west. These reports and the fact that the main body of the task force had received no fire from the positions east of Guingamp encouraged General Earnest to attack despite the late hour. Against light resistance the task force took the town.13
The most important bridge on the double-track railway was at Morlaix, thirty miles west of Guingamp. It was an arched stone structure some thousand feet in length and two hundred feet in height, the largest railroad viaduct in France.14 Suspecting that strong German forces would be in Morlaix, General Earnest endeavored to make contact with the 6th Armored Division so that he might call for help if necessary. "Where is Six Armored Division right flank?" he radioed Middleton. Middleton's reply of necessity was rather vague.15 As the task force approached Morlaix, Earnest tried without success to reach the armored division by radio.
German troops of the 266th Division had indeed occupied Morlaix, but early on 8 August the Germans departed the town to seek refuge in Brest. Driving toward Morlaix that same morning, Task Force A encountered only about a hundred Germans deployed around a château just east of the town. Taking the strongpoint by surprise, the Americans entered Morlaix and found the railroad viaduct intact.16
On the following morning, 9 August, the task force took a bridge south of Morlaix, and General Earnest reported that he had completed his mission. FFI detachments guarding the main highways between Dinan and Landivisiau had extended their control over the smaller roads. Task Force A captured more than 1,200 Germans; FFI, about 300. American and French losses were small.17
Earnest was preparing to join the 6th Armored Division at Brest when Middleton radioed him a new mission. The task force was to return to Morlaix and proceed from there northeast to the coast to secure the beaches of the bay of St. Michel-en-Grève, where cargo arriving
from England was to be unloaded.18 German strongpoints had earlier commanded the beach, but only mines and angle-iron obstacles remained. Earnest's troops met no opposition as they extended their control over St. Michel-en-Grève on 11 August. Three LST's hove into sight that day and prepared to unload supplies. To insure security for supply operations, the task force patrolled the coastal region, cleared disorganized German troops from the area, and took more than a thousand prisoners; losses totaled 25.19
Middleton considered recalling Task Force A to St. Malo, but the FFI commander, Eon, persuaded him otherwise. A German garrison near Paimpol still held coastal forts overlooking the western approaches to the bay of St. Brieuc, thereby denying the Allies use of the St. Brieuc port and allowing the Germans to furnish the Channel Island troops with foodstuffs procured on the mainland. Eon proposed to clear the Paimpol area and requested a display of American force during his attack. Middleton gave Eon a thousand gallons of gasoline to transport about 2,500 FFI troops and instructed Earnest to send along a few armored cars, some tank destroyers, and perhaps a battery of artillery. Expecting the FFI to carry the brunt of the combat, Middleton cautioned Earnest against forming a Franco-American force under a single commander. French and Americans were to share the profits of the venture, the Americans to get the prisoners, the FFI the captured arms and equipment.20
The extent of the German opposition soon drew Task Force A into what developed into a four-day engagement. After reducing a strongpoint near Lezardrieux (three miles west of Paimpol) and taking 430 prisoners, the Americans and the French launched an attack against Paimpol, cleared the town by noon, 17 August, and captured more than 2,000 prisoners and much equipment. At the same time, a reinforced battalion of the 8th Division in an independent action on 15 August cleared the Cap Frehel area, midway between Dinan and St. Brieuc, by firing a few white phosphorus rounds of 4.2-inch mortar and rounding up 300 prisoners.
The north shore had been swept clear, an achievement that belonged largely to Task Force A. The task force had secured a useable communications net between Dinan and Landivisiau. Although the railroad was of little worth because the port of Brest was not in American hands, the Task Force A operation was significant in a later context. To a large extent it made possible the logistical support for the major effort subsequently to be exerted to capture Brest.
"To the Last Stone"
When Task Force A departed the St. Malo area to sweep the Brittany north
shore, the 83d Division stayed to complete the task already begun. Few Americans suspected at the beginning of August that St. Malo would be difficult to take, for the rapidity of the advance into Brittany had brought a heady optimism. Yet studies made in England before the invasion indicated that there were strong defenses at the harbor, and contact with the defenders in the early days of August should have confirmed the fact that the Germans would make a determined stand there. Not until 5 August, however, did American commanders acknowledge that the Germans were capable of stubborn defense. By then, General Middleton and the VIII Corps, and particularly General Macon and the 83d Division, were aware that they had a nasty job ahead of them.21
Originally alerted for action against Rennes and Quiberon or against Brest, Macon had supported Task Force A at St. Malo with one regiment, hoping thereby to sweep aside the allegedly insignificant opposition at the port. The resistance that developed soon changed these plans, and by 5 August the entire division was committed there.22 (Map I)
At first wanting St. Malo immediately, later agreeing to bypass and contain the port if its reduction required "too large a force and too much time," General Bradley finally decided that with American troops dispersing to the far corners of Brittany the St. Malo harbor would be valuable as an auxiliary supply port for those forces. Used by the Germans as a naval base for coastal operations and as a supply base for the Channel Islands, St. Malo could accommodate medium-sized vessels and had facilities to unload cargo at the rate of a thousand tons a day. Although naval planners had informed General Eisenhower "that we are likely to be disappointed in its possibilities as a port," Bradley ordered St. Malo taken.23
To American commanders studying their maps, the Avranches-St. Malo area was much like the Normandy coastline where the OVERLORD landings had been made. The Bay of Mont St. Michel resembled in miniature the shape of the Bay of the Seine. The St. Malo peninsula appeared to be the Cotentin Peninsula seen through the wrong end of a telescope. The harbor of St. Malo was a smaller version of Cherbourg. The Rance River estuary provided a west coast for the St. Malo peninsula as the ocean did for the Cotentin. At the base of the Rance estuary, Dinan was in the same relation to St. Malo as Avranches was to Cherbourg.
A picturesque port, St. Malo was the birthplace of Jacques Cartier and the home of the privateers who had harassed English shipping for three centuries. Across the Rance River, more than a mile to the west, the beaches of Dinard had been a favorite with British tourists. The defenses protecting both towns comprised the fortress complex of St. Malo.
Although Frenchmen warned that about ten thousand German troops garrisoned the fortress, American estimates of German strength varied between three
Map 11. Reduction of St. Malo, 4-17 August 1944
and six thousand. As late as 12 August VIII Corps was accepting the figure of five thousand, even though in actuality more than twelve thousand Germans occupied St. Malo and Dinard, with about two thirds of that number on the St. Malo side of the Rance.24
When the true numerical strength ofthe garrison became known after the battle, some Americans began to feel that the haste displayed in getting the Brittany exploitation under way had enabled the Germans to build up their St. Malo forces. In bypassing the port and its approaches, the Americans permitted numerous small garrisons in the surrounding countryside, as well as stragglers from the Cotentin, to take refuge in the fortress. The absence of Allied naval patrols offshore had allowed reinforcement
and supply to be brought into the harbor from the Channel Islands. The growth of the garrison, which could not have occurred had the Americans thrust rapidly to the port upon entering Brittany, made reduction of the town a major task.
Though estimates of German strength were incorrect, American intelligence was right in its growing realization that the enemy in St. Malo firmly intended to resist. The garrison commander had rejected a proposal by French civilian officials that he surrender in order to save the nearby towns from damage. He had announced that "he would defend St. Malo to the last man even if the last man had to be himself."25 That he could make a strong fight in support of his boast soon became evident.
In early August outposts between Dol-de-Bretagne and Dinan were withdrawn to the Châteauneuf-St. Benôit-des-Ondes line, which consisted of antitank obstacles and guns, roadblocks, wire entanglements, mine fields, and machine gun emplacements. Although the co-ordinated attack, launched on 5 August by the 83d Division and Task Force A (the latter alone taking 655 prisoners), pierced this line and secured Châteauneuf, the stubborn opposition gave advance notice that the defense would stiffen as the Germans drew more closely around St. Malo.26
Hoping to outflank and isolate the St. Malo defensive complex, General Macon on 5 August sent a battalion of the 329th Infantry across the Rance in assault boats to cut the Dinan-Dinard road, a movethat was to be the preliminary action for a swift thrust to Dinard. Though the battalion crossed the river, the men uncovered such strong resistance on the west bank of the Rance that Macon quickly recalled them. Adding impetus to this decision was the discovery by the 331st Infantry, in the right of the division sector, of a much easier approach to St. Malo. Moving north in the area east of Châteauneuf toward Cancale, on the east coast of the St. Malo peninsula, the 331st encountered light covering forces defending canals, roadblocks, and mine fields. What the Germans were covering was their consolidation of forces on the main defense line of St. Malo.
That evening, 5 August, as Task Force A prepared to slip away to fulfill its original mission, the German commander prepared a last-ditch defense. As part of this activity, the fortress commander abandoned Cancale, which was occupied by the 331st Infantry on the following morning and immediately surveyed for use as a port for landing craft. The German commander also abandoned Dinan, which was surrounded on the following day by FFI troops who reported that several hundred Germans were willing to surrender, but only to Americans.27 By then, the 83d Division was attacking toward St. Malo with three regiments abreast--the 329th on the left, the 330th in the center, and the 331st on the right--and was in contact with the main defenses of the St. Malo fortress.
On the St. Malo side of the Rance, the fortress encompassed three communities on the western tip of the peninsula. In
the center was the walled town of St. Malo, originally an island accessible from the mainland only at low tide. Guarding the landward entrance into town was the fifteenth century château of Anne of Brittany. Protecting the town from seaward invasion were thick ramparts of stone. East of St. Malo and adjacent to it was the relatively modern suburb of Paramé, where bourgeois homes and resort hotels lined broad boulevards. South of St. Malo and across the harbor was the fishing port of St. Servan-sur-Mer. Not really on the ocean but on the Rance River estuary, St. Servan was the ferry terminus for the regular boat runs to Dinard. Dug into a rocky promontory on a peninsula between St. Malo harbor and the port of St. Servan was a casemented fort called the Citadel, the headquarters of the German commander.
Although the Germans at St. Malo and Dinard were fighting with their backs to the sea, they had powerful support from artillery placed on the small island of Cézembre, not quite three miles offshore. The Channel islands of Jersey, Guernsey, and Alderney could furnish the St. Malo fortress supplies by water and receive German casualties.28
Hundreds of volunteer and impressed Todt workers had poured tons of concrete over steel for more than two years,but the fortifications of St. Malo were not finished. Permanent coastal guns, for example, had not been installed in the Citadel, and only half a dozen field pieces, still with wheels, stood provisionally behind the firing apertures. The Germans had planned to dig an enormous antitank ditch across the St. Malo peninsula from the Rance to the sea and fill it with water, but the excavations were far from complete. Another weakness of the fortress was that it faced seaward against an expected Allied invasion from the sea. Barbed wire and other obstacles decorated the beaches.
Despite these deficiencies, the Germans were able to adjust quickly to a threat from the landward side of St. Malo. Enabling them to do so was a ring of strongpoints that barred the ground approaches. The most important were the coastal Fort la Varde, east of St. Malo; the strongpoint of St. Ideuc, on the eastern edge of Paramé; and positions on St. Joseph's Hill, in the southeast outskirts of St. Malo. The defense installations were mutually supporting, and underground wires assured telephonic communication among the principal garrisons. Stores of supplies, ammunition, water, and food, had been stockpiled in preparation against siege. As judged by OB WEST, the St. Malo fortifications were the most advanced of any fortress in the west.29
The commander of St. Malo, Col. Andreas von Aulock, was somewhat disappointed to have been relegated to a static fortress, for he would have preferred to gain striking offensive victories for his Fuehrer. Yet whether he understood the strategic importance of Hitler's
fortress policy or not, he prepared to do what was required of him. A veteran of Stalingrad who promised to make his defense of St. Malo "another Stalingrad," Aulock stated, "I was placed in command of this fortress. I did not request it. I will execute the orders I have received and, doing my duty as a soldier, I will fight to the last stone."30
Aulock, who had always been correct in his official relations with the French, could not understand why the inhabitants of St. Malo regarded him as an enemy. For their own good, he had suggested soon after the Allied landings in Normandy that the French evacuate the town, which was sure to be a battlefield. Despite Allied air bombardment on 17 July and again on 1 August, very few families had departed. The approach of U.S. ground forces prompted Aulock to clear his decks. Calling several town officials into conference on 3 August, he informed them that they were fine fellows but that he preferred to have them "in front of me rather than behind my back." Furthermore, since he wished to spare the population harm from the battle about to commence, most of the civilians had to go.
To French requests that he save historic St. Malo from destruction by declaring it an open city, Aulock answered that he had referred that question to Kluge, who had transmitted it to Hitler. Hitler had replied that in warfare there was no such thing as a historic city. "You will fight to the last man," he had ordered. As added justification to help the French comprehend Hitler's decision, Aulock explained that he commanded several small armed vessels that would have to maneuver in St. Malo waters. Since these boats constituted a legitimate military target, he could not declare the town an open city.31
Two days later, during the early evening of 5 August, a long line of French men, women, and children departed St. Malo in compliance with Aulock's order and entered American lines. Displaying white handkerchiefs and flags, carrying suitcases and pushing carts, most of the French population had left their homes reluctantly.
When American troops on 6 August came within range of the artillery on the island of Cézembre, German guns opened fire. One of the first shells struck the spire of the St. Malo cathedral. The steeple toppled over, a bad omen, the French believed. Later in the day fires broke out in the town. Frenchmen soon became convinced that the Germans had inadvertently spilled gasoline while burning codes and documents and that the few SS troops of the garrison with deliberate malice not only refused to permit fire fighters to put out the blaze but started others. The Americans unintentionally assisted by cutting the town's water supply in hope of encouraging German surrender, a hope concurred in by the mayor of St. Servan-sur-Mer, who had volunteered the necessary information on the location of the water valves. On the following morning, 7 August, the Germans added to the holocaust by setting off prepared demolitions that destroyed the port completely--quays, locks, breakwaters, and
harbor machinery. For a week, as the town burned, a pall of smoke hovered over the St. Malo battlefield.32
In contact with the main defenses of the St. Malo fortress by the afternoon of 6 August, the 83d Division attacked positions forming a semicircle from the Rance to the sea. Belts of wire, large mine fields, rows of steel gates, antitank obstacles, and ditches were protected by machine gunners in pillboxes. Though the attack involved co-ordinated action by all three regiments and utilized air power and artillery, advances were markedly limited. Any last illusions that the battle might be swiftly terminated vanished.33 To reinforce the 83d Division, General Middleton drew upon the 8th Division at Rennes for an infantry regiment (the 121st) and a medium tank company, which he attached to Macon's command; took a battalion of the corps artillery that had been attached to the 79th Division and ordered it into the St. Malo area; and requested increased air support.34
On 7 August the three organic regiments of the 83d Division renewed the attack toward St. Malo after a fifteen-minute artillery preparation. In the center of the division sector the German strongpoint on St. Joseph's Hill, tested on the previous day, continued to hold. Guns emplaced in a granite quarry on the hill, cavelike troop shelters hewed out of rock, and the dominating ground itself gave the German defenders such advantages that the 330th Infantry (Col.Robert T. Foster) could not even maneuver into position for an actual assault. The only genuine hope of success rested with sustained artillery fire. While division and corps battalions delivered concentrated shelling, the infantry tried to inch up the hill. Not the infantry progress, which was infinitesimal, but constant and severe artillery and tank destroyer pounding for two days finally produced results. On 9 August more than 400 Germans on St. Joseph's Hill laid down their arms and marched out under a white flag.35
The elimination of St. Joseph's Hill enabled the troops on both flanks to surge forward rapidly. On the right, Colonel York's 331st Infantry drove northward through Paramé to the sea, cutting off the enemy garrisons at St. Ideuc and la Varde. On the left, Colonel Crabill's 329th Infantry moved through St. Servan to the very gates of the Citadel.
By 9 August, after five days of attack, the 83d Division had eliminated the major strongpoint on St. Joseph's Hill, had knocked out many individual bunkers and pillboxes, had captured about 3,500 prisoners, and was in possession of St. Servan and Paramé.36 Yet for all this real achievement, resistance at St. Ideuc and la Varde, in the walled town of St. Malo itself, and fire from the Citadel continued undiminished, while supporting fires from Dinard and Cézembre rained down with telling effect.
The Reduction of Dinard
Though ground forces alone could only shell the Ile de Cézembre with artillery,
Dinard was approachable by land. On 7 August, while the 83d Division was launching its attack on St. Malo, the 181st Infantry (Col. John R. Jeter) had crossed the Rance to destroy the Dinard garrison.37 Colonel Jeter dispatched a small force to take the surrender of the enemy force at Dinan, which had promised the FFI to capitulate to the Americans. Turning north from Dinan, the main body of the 121st Infantry soon came under heavy artillery fire.
The 121st Infantry quickly discovered that every usable road to Dinard was barred by roadblocks of concrete, rock, felled trees, and barbed wire, each covered by camouflaged strongpoints manned by from twenty to eighty men armed with a high proportion of automatic weapons. The Germans also had constructed underground pillboxes and iron rail fences, strung double-apron barbed wire and concertina entanglements, and laid extensive mine fields. The pillboxes seemed unaffected by American artillery fire. German machine gun, small arms, mortar, and artillery fire harassed every American attempt to blast passageways through the other obstacles.
The 121st Infantry's advance was painfully slow. On the afternoon of 8 August, the 3d Battalion entered the village of Pleurtuit, less than four miles from Dinard. In the process it had reduced three pillboxes by close-in engineer and infantry action. As the troops moved into the village, several German tanks came in from the flanks and cut behind the battalion. Re-establishing a previously destroyed roadblock, German infantrymen isolated the unit.
Despite the support of strong artillery, mortar, and tank destroyer fire, the rest of the 121st Infantry could not break through to the battalion. Discouragement and tragedy marked the efforts. Two artillery planes, after successfully dropping blood plasma to the 3d Battalion, locked wings and crashed, their pilots and observers killed. A third plane was shot down by enemy fire. Two other planes flying observation missions in support of the isolated unit collided and crashed.38
The isolation of the 121st Infantry's 3d Battalion confirmed General Macon's impression that in general the regiment's performance west of the Rance had been far from brilliant, but only on 9 August, when St. Joseph's Hill fell, was General Macon able to turn full attention to the situation. When the capitulation of St. Joseph's Hill enabled the 83d Division to occupy St. Servan and Paramé, Macon decided to reorganize his forces, reshape the battle, and give priority to the reduction of Dinard.
Eliminating the Dinard garrison, a task General Macon judged to be relatively easy, would serve four purposes: it would stop part of the effective artillery fire that came from across the Rance; it would block the possibility that German troops might escape from the St. Malo fortress westward toward Brest; it would release the isolated battalion of the 121st Infantry; and it would make possible the return of the 121st to its parent organization for possible participation in a strong attack against Brest, an operation then under discussion.
Beach at Dinard, showing underwater obstacles planted by the Germans to prevent amphibious landings.
To help the 121st Infantry take Dinard, General Macon first reshuffled his organic forces by replacing the 331st Infantry in the Paramé sector with the 330th and moving the 331st across the Rance to reinforce the 121st. Finally, he took personal command of the Dinard operation.39
On 11 August, when General Macon got a co-ordinated attack on Dinard under way, physical contact with the 3d Battalion, 121st Infantry, still had not been established. The advance through the strongly fortified and stubbornly defended area continued painfully slow. The climax of a discouraging day came in the evening when a counterattack was repulsed with difficulty. "I want Monarch 6 [General Middleton] to know," a somewhat chastened General Macon radioed to the corps headquarters, "thatthe resistance we are meeting south of Dinard is more determined than I anticipated."40
The defense of Dinard was in the capable hands of Colonel Bacherer, who commanded a kampfgruppe composed in the main of remnants of the 77th Division, veterans of earlier fighting in the Cotentin. Creating their own field expedients to augment the existing fortifications of the Dinard portion of the St. Malo fortress, the men fought ably. To a surrender ultimatum from General Macon, Bacherer replied defiantly: "Every house must become a fortress, every stone a hiding place, and for every stone we shall fight."41
Despite the excellence of the German positions and the will to resist, the Germans could not indefinitely withstand the pressure of two regiments plus the increasing power of a growing number of corps artillery battalions in support. On the afternoon of 12 August, the 331st
Infantry broke through the German line around Pleurtuit. After destroying five bunkers by demolition and assault, knocking out an 88-mm. gun and several vehicles, and taking more than a hundred prisoners, the regiment at last made contact with the isolated battalion of the 121st.42
Through three days of isolation, the battalion had retained its integrity in the face of several counterattacks launched with artillery support. Surprisingly, losses were not so high as had been feared--31 killed, 106 wounded, and 16 missing. The kind of courage that had sustained the battalion was exemplified by a heroic act on 9 August, not long after the force was isolated. No sooner had an artillery shell struck the battalion command post, killing the operations and motor officers and seriously wounding the operations sergeant and a radio operator, than a German tank appeared five hundred yards away. Opening fire, the tankers killed several men. For a moment it appeared that the battalion headquarters might be annihilated. Taking matters into his own hands, Pvt. Francis A. Gardner of the Headquarters Company ran toward the tank with a bazooka. Though his first rocket missed, a 57-mm. antitank gun firing at the same time immobilized the tank by a hit on the treads. As the German crew started to abandon the disabled tank, Gardner fired a second time, striking the turret and killing the crew.43 With Pleurtuit in hand, the two regiments continued their attack on 13 August, slowly and systematically reducing individual pillboxes. By the afternoon of 14 August both regiments had entered Dinard and its suburbs. The operation was completed on the following day with the clearing of Dinard and the nearby villages of St. Lunaire and St. Briac-sur-Mer. Bacherer's headquarters, located in a small fort equipped with running water, air conditioning, food, and facilities to withstand siege, was captured. Surrender of the Dinard garrison added almost four thousand prisoners, including Bacherer, to the Allied bag.
When General Middleton remarked that the 121st Infantry didn't appear to have done much, the 83d Division chief of staff explained, "It is hard to tell what they have been up against. Sometimes those things go very slow for a while then all of a sudden they break. . . ."44 The fact was that one regiment had not been enough west of the Rance but two had been able to do the job.
While General Macon had personally directed the attack on Dinard, the assistant division commander, General Ferenbaugh, had taken control of the two remaining regiments of the 83d Division. The objectives still to be reduced were the walled city of St. Malo, the Citadel, and the strongpoints of St. Ideuc and la Varde. Ferenbaugh concentrated
first on the lesser strongholds, St. Ideuc and la Varde, which were small, mutually supporting forts. St. Ideuc in actuality was an outer defense position for la Varde, which was on the coast. German artillery at Dinard and Cézembre could fire in support.
On 9 August, while the 329th Infantry patrolled and policed the towns of St. Servan and Paramé and prepared to attack the Citadel, the two battalions under the 330th Infantry headquarters attacked toward St. Malo and St. Ideuc. For three days artillery pounded St. Ideuc and infantry and engineers operated against individual pillboxes and bunkers. In the late afternoon of 12 August, after a final burst of concentrated artillery fire and an infantry assault, the 160 surviving defenders capitulated. Without pause the assault battalion moved toward la Varde, and on the following evening, 13 August, captured the fort. Little more than a hundred Germans filed out in surrender.
Meanwhile, the other battalion under the 330th Infantry, with an additional rifle company, had been attacking toward the town of St. Malo. To gain entrance into the walled town, the troops had to secure the Paramé-St. Malo causeway. The attack thus took place across an area that funnelled the troops toward the narrow causeway strip. Supported by tanks and tank destroyers, the infantrymen systematically reduced pillboxes and bunkers, measuring their progress by streets. The avenues of Paramé became thoroughfares for bullets and shells, and engineers dynamited passageways from house to house to enable the infantrymen to fight forward from one building to another.
Manned by a small garrison employing machine guns and 20-mm. pieces and overlooking the battle area was the château of St. Malo at the far end of the causeway. The thick walls of the château, designed to withstand medieval siege, proved effective against the engines of modern war.
The immediate objective of the battalion attack was the Casino at the near end of the causeway. After two days of small unit action, the battalion in the late afternoon of 11 August took the blasted and tattered Casino. The château was less than a thousand yards away, but the intervening space was as exposed as a table top.
Although guns then pummelled the château for two days, even high velocity shells from 3-inch tank destroyer guns and 8-inch shells from artillery guns and howitzers seemed to have little effect. Neither did air attack by heavy and medium bombers produce any apparent result. German machine gun fire from the château walls remained too devastating for infantry alone to cross the causeway, and mine fields prevented tanks from approaching.45
As the fighting had progressed, the fires within the St. Malo ramparts had become a raging inferno. Flame and smoke obscured many of the defensive positions. To allow about a thousand French civilians still inside the walls to escape the conflagration, a truce was concluded for several hours during the afternoon of 13 August. These and about five hundred hostages and internees, who had been held at a tiny French-built fort offshore, entered American lines. The blaze had no effect on the German garrison in the château, for
Artillerymen Firing 3-inch Gun on German Defenses in St. Malo<
the château had its own fireproof walls separating it from the burning town.
With St. Ideuc and la Varde reduced by 13 August, the entire 330th Infantry gathered to assault St. Malo on the morning of 14 August. As artillery intensified its shelling and fired smoke and high explosive against the château walls, an infantry battalion surged across the causeway, past the château and into the walled town. There were few enemy troops in the charred and still burning buildings, and these were quickly rounded up. The defenders in the château, however, still held out, and their machine guns continued to chatter, discouraging engineers from placing demolition charges against the walls. Despite their virtually impregnable position, the prodding of American artillery fire and the obvious hopelessness of continued resistance finally prompted surrender that afternoon. Prisoners totaled 150.46
With this surrender, all organized resistance on the north shore of the St. Malo peninsula came to an end. On two small islands several hundred yards offshore, tiny forts, Fort National and
Street Fighting in St. Malo
Grand Bey, each comprising several blockhouses, had to be investigated. At low tide on 16 August a rifle company of the 329th Infantry marched across the sand to Fort National and found it unoccupied. The same company then assaulted Grand Bey. "Went in under a smoke screen, took them by surprise, tossed a few hand grenades, and they gave up." About 150 Germans surrendered.47
All this activity was either preliminary or tangential to the main task, reduction of the Citadel, which was supported by fire from the island of Cézembre. Although there was no longer any possibility of using the destroyed port of St. Malo, the resistance had to be eliminated to keep the Citadel and Cézembre garrisons from interfering by fire with Allied shipping to Granville and Cancale. Continued opposition from them would give courage to the small isolated German groups in Brittany that still refused to surrender, while capitulation might have the effect of softening the will to resist at Lorient and Brest. Also, complete reduction of the St. Malo complex
would free the 83d Division for employment elsewhere.48
Since reduction of Cézembre required an amphibious landing and naval support, the immediate problem facing General Macon was how to take the Citadel. Dug deeply into the ground, the Citadel was the heart of the fortress complex.49 The rocky promontory where it was located was a natural defensive position, as indicated by remaining vestiges of fortifications built by the Gauls to protect the long since vanished village of Aleth. A French fort erected there in the mid-eighteenth century provided the foundation for extensive construction undertaken by the Germans in 1942 with Polish, Belgian, Czech, French, Dutch, Algerian, and Spanish workers laboring voluntarily or otherwise for Todt.
A casemated strongpoint of connected blockhouses, the Citadel was effective against an approach from almost any direction. Where the guns of the Citadel could not fire, pieces at Dinard and Cézembre could. Although the fire power that the fort could deliver was not overwhelmingly impressive--half a dozen field pieces (the largest of 105-mm. caliber), several mortars, and perhaps eighteen or twenty machine guns comprised the armament--the weapons were mutually supporting. In the event that invaders would manage somehow to scale the walls, weapons were fixed to cover the interior court. The walls shielding the defenders were of concrete, stone, and steel, so thick that they were virtually impervious to artillery and air bombardment. Inside the fort, aeration and heat ducts, a vast reservoir of water, a large amount of food and supplies, and a subterranean railroad to transport ammunition and heavy equipment facilitated the ability to withstand siege. Blocking the landward approaches were barbed wire, four lines of steel rails placed vertically in cement, and an antitank ditch. Periscopes emerging from the ground level roof of the interior fort provided observation. To improve visibility and fields of fire, the Germans had knocked down several houses in St. Servan, and only the pleading of the mayor had saved a twelfth century church from a similar fate. Personifying the strength of the Citadel was the commander, Aulock, who was determined to bring credit to himself and his forces. According to prisoners, resistance continued "only because of Colonel von Aulock."50
As early as 5 August, General Macon was aware that it would be difficult to take the Citadel. When the corps G-3 suggested "Why don't you take 155's and blow it off the map?" the division G-3 answered, "I don't believe we can."51 He was speaking with more truth than he perhaps realized.
The obvious strength of the St. Malo
fortress, and particularly of the Citadel, prompted General Middleton to move heavy artillery of the corps into position to support the 83d Division attack. Before the battle ended, ten artillery battalions, including 8-inch guns, 8-inch howitzers, and 240-mm. howitzers, were pounding the St. Malo defenses.52 Yet the uncertainty of ammunition hampered operations. Fire plans were often curtailed. No artillery preceded an infantry attack launched on 9 August, for example, and on the following day the stockpiles of shells were so low that only five rounds per piece were available. For several days, some of the battalions fired four rounds per gun per day. Though ammunition shortages were troublesome, the lack of apparent effect against the enemy position was depressing. The walls of the Citadel were too thick to be breached by fire, the enemy pieces too well protected by casemates to be knocked out.53
Air attack was similarly ineffective. Fighter-bombers gave excellent assistance when the infantry attacked smaller strongpoints, but they were unable to make an impression on the Citadel. Though two groups of medium bombers attacked the Citadel with 1,000-pound general purpose bombs, these, too, seemed to have no effect.54 Assured by personal inspection that drastic measures were necessary to reduce the Citadel, General Middleton requested a high-level bombardment by heavy bombers in a mass attack. Unfortunately for Middleton, higher headquarters deemed objectives elsewhere of more importance.55
Since direct measures to reduce the Citadel seemed to have failed and since an all-out infantry attack would be costly, the 83d Division turned to subterfuge. A loudspeaker manned by the corps Psychological Warfare Service unit attempted without success to persuade the Germans to lay down their arms. Engineers explored the sewage system of St. Malo in the vain hope of discovering at least one conduit close enough to the Citadel to place a decisive demolition charge. A captured German chaplain was permitted to visit the Citadel to ask Aulock to give up. The chaplain returned with the report that Aulock refused to surrender because he was "a German soldier, and a German soldier does not surrender."
The mayor of St. Servan-sur-Mer suggested confidentially that a French lady who knew Aulock rather well might persuade him to lay down his arms and come out. Contact would not be difficult, he revealed, because a line still connected the Citadel and the St. Servan telephone office. Although the unorthodox nature of this suggestion at first prompted hesitation on the part of U.S. commanders, the lady rang up the Citadel anyway. Though Aulock would not come to the phone in person, he informed the lady through a subordinate that he had other things on his mind.56
Reinforcing Aulock's indomitable will was information he had received of a major German counterattack directed through Mortain toward Avranches. If this effort succeeded, it would isolate the Americans besieging St. Malo and eventually make them loosen their grip on the city. He announced the news of the counterattack to his troops with enthusiasm and promised that the garrison would be rescued---"if everyone discharges his duty and we hold out just a little longer. . . . Anyone deserting or surrendering," he warned, "is a common dog!" When he learned that the German counterattack had stalled, he still clung to his hope of eventual relief, but his declaration to his soldiers then appeared empty. The 83d Division had by then begun to assault the Citadel.57
Having cleared St. Servan and reached the immediate approaches to the Citadel by 9 August, the 329th Infantry prepared an attack as follow-up to an air strike on 11 August that was "going to bomb hell out of the place." Medium bombers appeared over the Citadel on the evening of 11 August and dropped 500-pound general purpose bombs, 100-pound incendiaries, and 1,000-pound semi-armor-piercing bombs. Immediately after the air attack, a rifle company of the 329th Infantry, reinforced by several engineers and three men of the FFI, moved toward the fort to exploit breaches in the defensive works caused by the bombardment. Using Bangalore torpedoes to open passageways through the barbed wire entanglements and the antitank obstacles, the men approached the fort. While a flame-thrower team sprayed a nearby bunker and the company established security positions, about thirty men, including the three Frenchmen, scaled the wall and reached the interior court. They saw no damage that could have been caused by the air attack, no broken concrete, no flames. Engineers dropped several pole charges through air vents and portholes without apparent effect and set off a few demolition charges without evident result. Suddenly the Germans opened a deadly cross fire with machine guns. Mortar shells began to drop around the walls and artillery shells from Cézembre fell near the fort. Having seen no real breach in the defenses, the assault group departed the fort and the rifle company withdrew.58
Colonel Crabill, the regimental commander who had the immediate responsibility for capture of the Citadel, next decided to form two special assault teams for close-in action against the fort. Each team was to have ninety-six infantrymen augmented by demolition groups, security groups, and a special heavy demolition group. While the teams were formed and rehearsed for action, tank destroyers assumed positions from which to deliver direct fire against the fort in the hope of demolishing enemy gun emplacements.59
The tank destroyers, assisted by artillery, pounded the Citadel for two days, and on 13 August medium bombers again struck the fort. Soon after the air bombardment a white flag appeared,
producing a short-lived jubilation. Aulock wanted only to conclude the truce that had permitted the French civilians to depart the burning town of St. Malo.60
After the armistice, the artillery and tank destroyer shelling continued. Rounds expended during one 24-hour period totaled 4,103, despite threatened shortages of ammunition.61 Again on 15 August medium bombers plastered the Citadel for thirty minutes. At the conclusion of the bomb strike, Colonel Crabill's special assault teams launched an attack, but intense machine gun fire soon drove them back.
Given no apparent alternative but to intensify the siege tactics, General Macon directed that the shelling of the Citadel continue. Two 8-inch guns of the corps artillery came to within 1,500 yards of the fort to deliver direct fire on portholes and vents. Two companies of 4.2-inch mortars that had been firing on the fort intermittently increased the proportion of white phosphorus to high explosive. Air liaison personnel at the 12th Army Group planned a bombing mission employing "gasoline jell" bombs, not only to eliminate resistance but also to experiment on the effectiveness of what later came to be known as napalm.62 The climax of these efforts was to be an air attack projected for the afternoon of 17 August.
Forty minutes before the scheduled arrival of the planes, a white flag appeared over the Citadel. When several German soldiers emerged from the fort, an American officer went to meet them, though wary that this might be another false alarm. It was not. Aulock was indeed ready to surrender. Diverting the bombers to Cézembre, which manifested no sign of imminent capitulation, the 83d Division began to accept the surrender of four hundred Citadel defenders who emerged. Among them was Aulock, freshly-shaved, dress-uniformed, and insolent.63
Why had he surrendered--this commander who had sworn to defend to the last man, the last cartridge, the last stone? Still with men and cartridges, Aulock was far from having to resort to stones. His supply of food, water, and air was abundant. Allied plane attacks had hardly been felt inside the fort. The shock of impact from artillery shells had been slight. The Americans were no closer to the Citadel than they had been eight days before.
As the story emerged, it became clear that two factors had caused Aulock to renounce his vows. First, direct hits by 8-inch guns aimed singly and at specific targets at virtual point blank range had penetrated several firing apertures in the fort and had destroyed a few of the larger artillery pieces and machine gun emplacements. Second, Aulock's determination notwithstanding, American capture of the individual strongpoints of the St. Malo fortress had intensified a psychological malaise deriving from the sensation of being surrounded and trapped. Morale of the troops had deteriorated to the point where further resistance seemed senseless.
Despite his capitulation, Aulock had done his duty well. He had rendered
The Citadel After it was Taken by U.S. Troops
the port of St. Malo useless to the Americans. He had held up an entire division and substantial supporting forces for almost two weeks and thus had prevented the VIII Corps from taking decisive action against the fortress ports of Lorient and Brest.
The surrender of the Citadel cleared the St. Malo-Dinard sector with the exception of the garrison on the island of Cézembre. The 83d Division had completed an impressive action. As against comparatively light losses, the division had taken more than ten thousand prisoners.64
The efforts of the division during this period had nevertheless been strenuous and, as a measure of rest and rehabilitation, the troops received a different type of mission. Originally scheduled to help in the reduction of Brest as soon as St. Malo was captured, the 83d Division instead took responsibility for the "back area" of the Rennes-Brest supply line and eventually patrolled Brittany as far south as the Loire River. As the division dispersed throughout the area south of Rennes in a welcome respite after the close-in siege action, two infantry battalions of the 330th--one at Dinard and the other at St. Malo, both aided by the FFI--policed the coastline and guarded
Interior of the Citadel After the Surrender
against German infiltration from Cézembre.65
Four thousand yards offshore, the tiny island of Cézembre, half a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide, by its position opposite the mouth of the Rance River controlled the deep water channel to St. Malo and the sea approaches to Granville and Cancale. Its coastal guns had been out of range of the 83d Division artillery pieces during the early part of the battle, and its fire had been a nasty source of harassment. The division had requested the island blasted "as quickly as we can and as often as we can," and the VIII Corps had promised to "work on it from the air and naval angle." Bombers attacked the island during the night of 6 August and again on 11 August, but naval gunfire did not become available until much later. Meanwhile, the corps had brought heavy artillery into the St. Malo area, and from 9 August on the pieces shelled the island to prevent interference
Bombing of Ile de Cézembre, Off St. Malo
with the ground action on the mainland.66
The thirty-five planes diverted to Cézembre from the attack on the Citadel on 17 August created huge columns of smoke with their napalm bombs.67 Hoping that fires started by the bombardment would intensify the adverse effect Aulock's capitulation was sure to have on the garrison, and expecting that both factors would enlist a readiness to quit Cézembre, General Macon authorized Maj. Joseph M. Alexander and two enlisted men, as well as an accredited civilian motion picture cameraman, to demand that the Germans relinquish the island. On 18 August the party rowed across the St. Malo bay. At Cézembre, a noncommissioned officer met the boat and conducted Alexander and his interpreter to the fortress commander, a lieutenant colonel who did not give his name. Neither arrogant nor boastful, the German commander stated that the last order he had received from higher headquarters instructed him to maintain his defense. Until he received a countermanding order, he would continue to do just that. Informed that the mainland was completely under American control, he declared that he did not understand how that changed his situation. Reminded that Aulock had surrendered the day before, he countered that he had not exhausted his ammunition on Cézembre. After a courteous conversation lasting fifteen minutes, the Americans were escorted back to the beach and helped to launch their boat for the return trip.68
According to Alexander's observations, Cézembre was a shambles. Shelling and bombardment had demolished or badly damaged the few houses and buildings, destroyed a narrow-gauge railway designed to carry ammunition from the
beach to gun positions, created large craters, and exploded an ammunition dump, scattering shells and debris throughout the island. About three hundred men comprised the garrison. From tunnels dug into rock, the men manned those coastal guns that still functioned.69
No further effort was made immediately against Cézembre. A week later, when preparations were being completed for a strong attack against Brest, higher headquarters decided to eliminate the nuisance of Cézembre. The 330th Infantry headquarters returned to St. Malo to direct training for an amphibious operation. Arrangements were made for assault boats and special equipment. Softening up operations commenced on 30 August when two groups of planes bombed the island. On 31 August twenty-four P-38's dropped napalm and three hundred heavy bombers struck with high explosive. Several 8-inch howitzers and guns shelled the island "day and night" with particular effort to destroy water tanks. Another parley with the island commander disclosed "that he will fight to the last drop of water."70
Faced with this attitude, the Allies increased their pressure on 1 September. Medium bombers of both the IX Bomber Command and the RAF Bomber Command opened an aerial assault that ended with thirty-three P-38's dropping napalm. A British warship, H.M.S. Warspite, fired salvos of 15-inch armor-piercing projectiles. Field artillery from the mainland fired 155-mm.,8-inch, and 240-mm. shells at embrasures, portholes, and tunnel entrances. After this display of power, another demand for surrender was transmitted to the garrison. Again the German commander replied that he lacked permission to surrender.71
On the following day, 2 September, as the 330th Infantry prepared to make an amphibious assault on Cézembre, the garrison raised a white flag. The landing craft immediately conducted troops to the island and evacuated 1 German officer, 320 men, and 2 Italian officers. Although the fortifications had been severely damaged, the reason for the capitulation was a shortage of water--the distilling plant had been destroyed.72
So ended the battle of St. Malo, a battle that had been unexpected in its inception, in its difficulty, and in its duration. German troops, although isolated, had demonstrated convincingly the value of military discipline in carrying out the Fuehrer's will. An action of local significance by mid-August, a rear area operation more than a hundred miles behind the front, the combat nevertheless fulfilled Hitler's strategic design.
From the American point of view, the results of the Brittany campaign produced mixed reactions. August had come in like a whirlwind, gone out in a calm. The 4th Armored Division had seized Rennes by 4 August, had contained
St. Malo Prisoners Marching Off to Internment
11,000 Germans in Lorient by 9 August, and had captured Nantes on 13 August. The 6th Armored Division had driven more than 200 miles down the center of the peninsula, had penned some 30,000 Germans into the fortress of Brest and had destroyed part of a German division. Task Force A had swept the northern shore of Brittany to secure the Brest-Rennes railroad and to secure the beach of St. Michel-en-Grève. In contrast with these swift exploiting thrusts, the 83d Division had besieged the fortress of St. Malo, and only after a "slugging match had slowly hammered down pillboxes, barricades, and fortified areas" was the mainland stronghold reduced by 17 August, the Ile de Cézembre two weeks later, by 2 September.73
The Brittany peninsula had been completely cut off, and a sizable segment of France, the ancient province of Brittany, had been liberated with dispatch. No organized resistance remained in the interior, for the Germans who remained in Brittany had been herded into Lorient, St. Nazaire, and Brest, where they could only escape by sea or await American siege operations.74
Despite these achievements, the Brittany campaign had not secured the basic strategic objectives that had motivated
it. The major ports of Brittany could not be used. St. Malo was destroyed beyond hope of immediate repair: Nantes was demolished. Brest, Lorient, and St. Nazaire were occupied by enemy forces in naturally good defensive positions bolstered by extensive fortifications. Construction of a harbor at Quiberon Bay could not be started. The logistical fruits of the action were the minor harbors of Cancale and St. Michel-en-Grève and the railway from Rennes to Morlaix. Although the VIII Corps gathered its forces for a mighty effort at Brest at the end of August, logistical planners were by then looking elsewhere for major ports of entry.
Failure to have attained the strategic goals of the operation did not appear terribly important in mid-August. Events occurring farther to the east had long since relegated the action in Brittany to secondary status. The eastern development of the breakout was overflowing Normandy into the ancient provinces of Anjou and Maine and promising to bring the campaign in western France to a climax.
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