Chapter XXVIII
The Drive to the Seine

While the XV Corps left part of its forces at Argentan and started the wider envelopment to the Seine on 15 August, other components of the Third Army farther to the south were also driving to the Seine, sweeping clear the vast area north of the Loire River. The advance to the Seine fulfilled a prophecy made a week earlier--that "the battle of Normandy is rapidly developing into the Battle of Western France."1

South to the Loire

The drive to the Seine had actually begun on 3 August, when General Bradley instructed General Patton to secure the north-south line of the Mayenne River, clear the area west of the Mayenne River as far south as the Loire, and protect the 12th Army Group south flank with minimum forces.2 Since the VIII Corps was driving southwest toward Rennes and the XV Corps was about to move southeast toward Mayenne, Patton oriented the XX Corps south toward Nantes and Angers. As the main American effort veered eastward in accordance with the modified OVERLORD plan and the XV Corps drove toward Laval and le Mans, Patton ordered the XX Corps to cross the Mayenne River in a parallel drive to protect the XV Corps south flank.3

Bradley approved Patton's eastward orientation and even furthered it by designating the Paris-Orléans gap as the ultimate Third Army objective. Yet he specified once more the additional mission of protecting the south flank along the Loire River to guard against possible German incursion from the south. Angers and Nantes would therefore have to be captured.4 (See Maps 12 and 17.)

The demands of this dual mission became the responsibility of Maj. Gen. Walton H. Walker, a West Pointer who had served in France during World War I, who had been an infantryman and artilleryman before turning to armor, and who had commanded the IV Armored Corps, later redesignated the XX Corps, in training.

Early plans for XX Corps to control the 2d French Armored and the 5th and 35th Infantry Divisions went awry when the 35th became involved in the Mortain counterattack and when the French division, after a brief alert for possible action at Mortain, joined the XV Corps. The 5th Division thus remained the sole instrument available for the XX Corps initial commitment.


11th Infantrymen meet resistance in the drive to Angers
11th Infantrymen meet resistance in the drive to Angers.

Having fought with the V Corps before being pinched out on the First Army left flank near Vire, General Irwin's 5th Division received instructions an hour before dawn on 4 August to join the XX Corps by moving immediately through Villedieu and Avranches to an assembly area near Vitré, forty miles south of Avranches. The suddenness of the call precluded advance planning, and General Irwin felt handicapped by a lack of definite knowledge of his next combat mission and the terrain in which he would fight. With no inkling that this manner of operating would soon be normal, General Irwin began at once to march from one American flank to the other.5

On the road for three days in a march hampered by traffic congestion, the 5th Division reached Vitré on 7 August. On that day Patton orally instructed Walker to move a regiment of the 5th Division to seize Angers, fifty-five miles southeast of Vitré; an infantry battalion


to capture Nantes, sixty-five miles southwest of Vitré; and the rest of the division to Segré, twenty-two miles northwest of Angers. Gaffey, Third Army chief of staff, arrived at Irwin's command post at noon that day to transmit the mission for quick compliance. Though tired from their long hours on the road, the 5th was to move at once. Perhaps Gaffey was not explicit, perhaps Irwin misinterpreted. In any event, Irwin felt that the fifty-mile distance between Nantes and Angers, as well as the distance of both towns from Vitré, made it impractical for him to take both objectives at the same time. The development of the major operations to the east and Patton's instructions for Walker to reach the Mayenne River south of Château-Gontier seemed to give Angers priority over Nantes.6

Information on the enemy in the area south and east of Vitré was scant, but "a general withdrawal by the Germans, extent and destination not yet clear," was presumed. Actually, there were scarcely any Germans between Vitré and the Loire River. The First Army in southwest France had been charged on 2 August with protecting the crossing sites along the Loire River, its northern boundary. Two days later the LXXX Corps artillery commander brought a measure of unified leadership to the troops along the river line from St. Nazaire to Saumur--security formations, naval personnel, antiaircraft units, and the like. On 8 August, the 16th Division (formed by consolidating the 158th Reserve Division--which was intended originally to furnish replacements to the units committed in Normandy--and the 16th Luftwaffe Field Division) assumed responsibility for defending the Loire along a front that eventually extended from Nantes to Orléans. The 16th Division was short of equipment but was well trained and well led.7 Part of this force, with some few elements that had come from Normandy, met the 5th U.S. Division at Angers, a city of 95,000 inhabitants located just south of the point where the Mayenne and Sarthe merge to become the Maine River. The Maine, only six miles long, flows through Angers before joining the Loire. Three miles south of Angers, a highway bridge crosses the Loire at les Ponts-de-Cé.

From Vitré, General Irwin dispatched Col. Charles W. Yuill's 11th Infantry through Cande in a direct approach to Angers from the west. He sent a company-sized task force on a more devious route to cross the Mayenne and Sarthe Rivers, outflank Angers on the east, cut the main highway south of the city, and capture the bridge across the Loire.8 The small task force soon discovered that all bridges across the Sarthe and Mayenne in the division zone were demolished and that few Germans were between Château-Gontier and the Loire. The force then retraced its steps and rejoined the division, which in the meantime had displaced to Angers behind the 11th Infantry. The nth had encountered no serious resistance until reaching a point two miles west of Angers on the evening of 7 August. General Irwin


had then moved the remainder of the division south from Vitré.

Impatient, General Walker phoned Irwin at noon, 8 August. Walker wanted Angers quickly, but he also wanted a reinforced infantry battalion sent to Nantes. If German activity at Lorient, Brest, and St. Malo indicated a pattern of behavior likely to be encountered at all the ports, it was reasonable to assume that strong and determined German forces held Nantes. Although his available troops permitted him only to contain the enemy in the area, Walker desired at least a token force to block the northern exits of Nantes and prevent the Germans from sallying forth unnoticed against American communications.

Irwin, who was already involved at Angers, his major objective, wanted to keep his units well consolidated so he could deal with any emergencies. Operating in what he considered a vacuum of information, he was uneasy because his "mission, zone of action, and adjacent forces [were] not clear," even though he was "using every agency" to find out what his neighbors were doing. Nevertheless, when he learned at the end of the afternoon of 8 August that Walker was "much exercised" because no troops were on the way to Nantes, Irwin sent out a call for trucks. They arrived early on 9 August, and a reinforced infantry battalion motored to Nantes. Encountering no opposition until reaching the outskirts of the city, the battalion destroyed a telephone center and a radio station, then set up blocking positions along the city's northern exits.

Meanwhile, the 11th Infantry on 8 August had captured intact a railroad bridge southwest of Angers, and this gave direct access into the city. General Irwin funnelled Col. Robert P. Bell's 10th Infantry across the bridge on 9 August and prepared a co-ordinated two-regiment attack for the following day.

General Walker visited the division and was satisfied with the preparations, but he characteristically "urged more speed in attack." Launched on 10 August, the drive carried American troops into the city, and, by the morning of 11 August, the 5th Division had almost two thousand prisoners and was in control of Angers. American aircraft destroyed the highway bridge south of the city by bombardment, thus isolating Angers from the south.9

Developments elsewhere had their effect on the XX Corps. On the basis of information that German reinforcements were moving into the le Mans-Alencon-Sées area, Third Army on 11 August directed Walker to assemble on the Mayenne-le Mans line three of the four divisions then assigned to him. With the 7th Armored, 35th, and 80th Divisions, he was to attack promptly from the Mayenne-le Mans line to the northeast to secure the Carrouges--Sées line. The intention apparently was to eliminate a potential German threat from the west against the exposed left and rear of the


XV Corps, which was driving north toward Argentan. In addition, Walker was directed to move the 5th Division, less a regiment to be left at Angers, northeast along the Loir River about fifty miles from Angers to a line generally between le Mans and Tours, there, as Patton put it, "to guard against a very doubtful attack on our [south] flank."10

The 7 th Armored Division, which had recently landed at Omaha Beach and was hurrying toward le Mans, was not immediately available, nor was the 35th Division, engaged at Mortain. But so urgent was the need to cover the exposed left flank of the XV Corps that Walker, directed again on 12 August to attack, initiated action on the 13th with the two regiments of the 80th Division at hand. Though the attack made good progress and swept away scattered German resistance, it ended in embarrassment as the 80th Division troops collided with XV Corps units moving across their attack zone.11

Meanwhile, the 5th Division was moving northeast from Angers. To General Irwin, who was less than fully informed on the big picture, "sudden and unexpected changes cause[d] considerable confusion in arrangements, transportation, and plans," particularly since there was "no indication of reasons for orders." His bewilderment increased during the next few days when orders "made no sense at all" and prompted "great confusion."

Between 12 and 16 August, Irwin received conflicting orders that indicated not much more than changing directions of march. Strained communications, sketchy information, and a surprising absence of German opposition characterized his division's movements, and he could only guess that his ultimate objective might be Dreux, Châteaudun, or Orléans. In time, General Walker told him to remain south of the Chartres-Etampes highway. Finally Walker advised him to stand fast just south of Chartres. Irwin then assumed that he was "heading south of Paris to the east," but he hoped for a few days rest so that his troops could take care of long-needed mechanical maintenance.

Meanwhile, a 4th Armored Division combat command had relieved the battalion of the 5th Division at Nantes, and the 319th Infantry of the 80th Division had replaced Colonel Roffe's 2d Infantry, which Irwin had temporarily left at Angers. As these components joined the division near Chartres, Irwin again had a complete unit, and he would soon get a definite mission.12

The Drive to the East

Despite Irwin's bewilderment as to the meaning of his apparently uncharted and aimless peregrinations, a well-defined course of action was emerging. Although the strands of significance were often improvised and tangled, they reflected a pattern of activity designed to exploit the German disorganization in western France. The general area of operations for those units not engaged at the Argentan-Falaise pocket lay between the Seine and Loire Rivers, an


open, level plain ideally suited for armored operations. The chalk plateaus in the Evreux, Dreux, Chartres, and Châteaudun areas provided excellent airfield sites capable of insuring satisfactory air support for post-OVERLORD operations east of the Seine. Since securing this ground was an essential preliminary to breaking out of the lodgment area, the operations of the Third Army were oriented toward this goal.13

Depending on further developments in the fast changing situation, the most likely objectives toward which the Third Army could next direct its efforts were closing the Argentan-Falaise gap, cutting off at the Seine the Germans escaping from the pocket, and securing the Paris-Orléans gap. Accordingly, Patton on 13 August ordered his forces to assume flexible dispositions. The XV Corps at Argentan was already in position to secure the Argentan-Falaise gap. Patton gave the XX Corps the 7th Armored Division and instructed Walker to secure Dreux as the initial step in blocking German escape across the lower Seine. The XII Corps, with newly assigned subordinate units, was to concentrate in the area southeast of le Mans to be in position for an advance to the Paris-Orléans gap. Because of the fluid situation, Patton instructed all three corps commanders to be prepared to operate to the north, northeast, or east.14

The XII Corps headquarters had virtually completed the administrative task of landing and assembling the Third Army units coming from England and dispatching them to the front. Although the corps headquarters had been scheduled to take control of the 7th Armored and 80th Infantry Divisions, neither proved available; the 80th was involved at Argentan, and the 7th Armored was moving toward Dreux. Fortunately, the 35th Division was about to complete its mission near Mortain, and Patton gave it, as well as the 4th Armored Division (coming from Brittany and VIII Corps control), to XII Corps. With these forces, XII Corps, in addition to protecting the south flank of the army, could advance toward the Paris-Orléans gap or, if necessary, support the XX Corps drive to the lower Seine.15

After Bradley halted the XV Corps at Argentan and after Patton ordered Haislip to split the corps and move two divisions eastward, Patton found himself on 15 August, for all practical purposes and exclusive of the VIII Corps in Brittany, in command of four corps of two divisions each. Half of the XV Corps (2d French Armored and 90th Infantry Divisions) was facing north in the Argentan area, while the XV Corps headquarters with the other half (5th Armored and 79th Infantry Divisions) was heading generally eastward, as were the XX Corps (7th Armored and 5th Divisions) and the XII Corps (4th Armored and 35th Divisions). On 15 August Patton directed the XII Corps to seize Châteaudun and Orléans and protect the army right flank along the Loire. He changed the objective of the XX Corps--instead of taking Dreux, the corps was to establish a bridgehead across


the Eure River at Chartres. He instructed the XV Corps to establish a bridgehead over the Eure at Dreux. Thus evolved the Third Army three-corps drive eastward to the Seine.16 (Map XII)

Though General Patton alerted his corps commanders for advances beyond these objectives, General Bradley exerted a restraining influence. Bradley was concerned with the strain that the rapid advance was imposing on supply and communications facilities. In accord with OVERLORD planning, Bradley wanted to give the logistical apparatus time to develop installations that would provide a secure base for post-OVERLORD operations beyond the Seine. He therefore restricted Patton to Dreux; Chartres, and Orléans so that he, Bradley, could there regroup his forces and readjust the army boundaries.17

To secure Orléans was the mission of Maj. Gen. Gilbert R. Cook, a West Pointer who had fought in France during World War I, who had commanded XII Corps since 1943, and who in addition was deputy commander of the Third Army. To perform his first combat mission as corps commander, General Cook set up his headquarters at le Mans on 13 August and awaited the arrival of his widely separated units--the 4th Armored Division coming out of Brittany and the 35th Division on the road from Mortain.

Since Patton had told him to "get started as soon as possible," Cook formed an armored-infantry column composed of elements from both divisions and headed the column down the main road from le Mans to Orléans on 15 August.18 The 4th Armored Division's CCA under Colonel Clarke had driven from Nantes to St. Calais--more than a hundred miles--in one day, but after a short halt for refueling, the tankers moved on toward Orléans. Immediately behind came a 35th Division regimental task force, Col. Robert Sears's 137th Infantry. The armor was eventually attached to the infantry, and both units then operated under General Sebree, the 35th's assistant division commander.

There was little knowledge of enemy strength or dispositions save vague reports that the Germans were assembling forces to defend Châteaudun and Orléans. As a result of conflicting intelligence, Cook later received contrary messages from Patton advising him to proceed directly to Orléans and also to go by way of Châteaudun. To resolve the matter, Cook ordered Sebree to take Orléans if quick capture appeared feasible without reinforcement and if it appeared possible to hold the city with light forces after its capture.

With very few maps, without prior reconnaissance, lacking information of enemy dispositions, and ignorant of the natural obstacles of the region, tankers


and infantrymen plunged boldly toward Orléans. Though all the bridges between St. Calais and Orléans had been destroyed, energetic reconnaissance revealed crossing sites. By dark of 15 August, the large Orléans airport, which had been strongly fortified with antiaircraft and antitank guns but left virtually undefended, was captured, and American troops were at the outskirts of the city.

About that time, because of changing plans on higher levels of command, Patton directed Cook to halt the advance on Orléans and secure Châteaudun. Cook objected, saying he could take both. Patton gave no immediate answer but called back later and authorized continuation of the attack on Orléans with the forces already committed. Cook again objected, this time to the restriction on employing his forces. Patton finally told him to go ahead and use his own judgment.

After meeting with Baade, Sebree, Clarke, and Sears on the morning of 16 August, Cook directed the attack to Orléans continued. While two columns of armor attacked the city from the north and northeast, the 137th Infantry assaulted Orléans from the west. The converging attacks crushed slight opposition, and that night the city of Joan of Arc was in American hands.

Meanwhile, Cook had also directed Baade to capture Châteaudun. General Baade sent Col. Bernard A. Byrne's 320th Infantry, and after an all-night march and a short sharp engagement against several hundred Germans with a few tanks, the regiment took the town by noon of 17 August.19 Concentrating his forces in the Châteaudun-Orléans area, General Cook awaited further instructions.

The speed of the XII Corps advance to Orléans dashed German hopes of organizing a defense of the Paris-Orléans gap. The First Army and the LXXX Corps headquarters had displaced from the Bay of Biscay region to Fontainebleau and Reims, respectively, on 10 August to form a line west of the upper Seine that would tie in with the Seventh Army and Fifth Panzer Army defenses west of the lower Seine. Developments at Argentan and Falaise and the lack of combat units for immediate attachment to the First Army, however, prevented more than a cursory defensive effort along the upper Seine south of Paris. The LXXX Corps instead built up defensive positions along the Marne River. The troops that had met the Americans at Orléans and Châteaudun had been miscellaneous rear-guard elements reinforced by remnants of the 708th Division and hastily assembled antiaircraft and antitank units, all under the control of local commanders who had been instructed to prepare defensive positions with the aid of impressed French inhabitants. The First Army, for all practical purposes, commanded local strongpoints "of doubtful combat value."20

The loss of Orléans on 16 August, the weakness of the First Army, developments at Argentan and Falaise in Normandy, and the Allied invasion of southern


France on 15 August prompted OKW and OB WEST to relinquish southwest France. Anticipating an Allied drive up the Rhone River valley and a continued eastward advance from Orléans, the Germans could foresee the eventual meeting between the Dragoon (southern France) and OVERLORD forces. They therefore tried to avert the isolation of their own forces in southwest France. As the Germans in Normandy began their definite withdrawal out of the Argentan-Falaise pocket, a general withdrawal from the Bay of Biscay to Dijon started under the supervision of the LXIV Corps. The 16th Division was assigned the task along the Loire of covering the northern flank of the withdrawal movement. Spread rather thin, the division garrisoned the towns at the Loire crossing sites with the exception of Nantes, Angers, and Orléans, which were in American possession. Perhaps a thousand infantrymen reinforced by some artillery pieces, a few antitank weapons, and a handful of tanks, guarded the Loire crossings at Saumur, Tours, and Blois.

The withdrawal from southwest France got under way as approximately 100,000 men moved northeastward, mostly on foot. The great majority had engaged in agricultural, construction, and security operations, and very few combat troops were among them. Their movement stimulated the FFI to activity that increased from relatively minor nuisance raids to major harassing action, including intensified FFI operations along the Loire River. At the same time, American pressure along the north bank of the Loire, both on the ground and in the air, increased.21

The American units that had swept from St. Calais directly to Orléans and Châteaudun had not come near the Loire River except at Orléans, although the need to capture Orléans had not eliminated General Cook's mission to protect the south flank of the 12th Army Group along the Loire. Since the American sweep to Orléans had followed routes along the north bank of the Loir River, a tributary of the Sarthe that parallels the Loire for about seventy miles, a buffer zone about twenty-five miles wide existed between the Loire and the Loir--a sort of no man's land inhabited by American and German patrols and by the FFI.

Contrary to later legend, General Patton appreciated the possibility that the German troops at the Loire might make sorties against the underbelly of the Third Army (and 12th Army Group) and become nuisances to U.S. lines of communication. He therefore requested General Weyland to have the XIX Tactical Air Command patrol the Loire River valley constantly. For the 24-hour coverage that was subsequently provided, a squadron of night fighters augmented the daylight operations of the XIX TAC fighter-bombers. Similarly, General Cook directed General Baade to keep artillery observation planes of the 35th Division over the Loir River valley.22

Despite these efforts, aerial surveillance could not take the place of ground action. Unless American troops destroyed the bridges across the Loire.


the Germans would be able to raid U.S. lines of communication. General Cook therefore instructed the 4th Armored Division to sweep the north bank of the Loire between Tours and Blois. General Wood gave the mission to General Dager's CCB, which was moving from Lorient toward Orléans. CCB was to clear the north bank and destroy the bridges but was not to become involved in action that might delay its progress. In compliance, as CCB drove the 250 miles from Lorient to Vendome (forty miles west of Orléans) in thirty-four hours, General Dager dispatched patrols to the river. These were sufficient to cause the Germans, already harassed by the FFI, to demolish the bridges themselves and withdraw to the south bank between Tours and Blois. A XII Corps task force composed of the 1117th Engineer Group and an attached artillery battalion performed the same function for the bridges between Blois and Orléans. With all the bridges destroyed, aircraft keeping the Loire River valley under surveillance, patrols guarding the buffer zone between the Loir and the Loire from Angers to Orléans, and the Germans manifesting little hostile intent, the southern flank of the 12th Army Group appeared secure. General Cook had accomplished his mission. His first assignment as XII Corps commander was also his last. In poor health for some time, he finally gave in to doctors' orders and relinquished his command.

The XX Corps mission to take Chartres had evolved out of a fluid situation that bred some confusion. After having attacked on the left of XV Corps on 13 August toward the Carrouges-Sées line, the same objective given to XV Corps, and having collided with XV Corps units, XX Corps received new orders sending it to Dreux. General Walker's field order, issued on the morning of 14 August, directed an attack "on the axis le Mans-Nogent-le-Rotrou-Dreux-Mantes-Gassicourt to seize the line of the Seine between Meulan--Vernon."23 As far as Dreux was concerned, this projected an advance to the northeast. But XV Corps on the XX Corps left was preparing on the same day to advance to the east, also on Dreux, with the two divisions departing the Argentan area. If the two corps converged on a single point, in this case Dreux, a confusion of major proportions was inevitable. During the evening of 14 August, therefore, Walker received a new mission--Chartres became the new XX Corps objective.

As a result of these changes, the initial commitment of the 7th Armored Division was fraught with haste and potential disorder. Having almost been sent into attack on the XV Corps left as it was hurrying from its recent unloading at Omaha Beach toward le Mans, the 7th Armored Division on the afternoon of 13 August received orders to pass through le Mans, clear the roads to enable the 35th Division to advance on Orléans, and assemble near la Ferté-Bernard, fifty miles southwest of Dreux. While the division was assembling near la Ferté-Bernard, General Walker arrived at the command post at noon, 14 August. He ordered the division commander, Maj. Gen. Lindsay McD. Silvester, to begin his attack at once--toward Dreux and Mantes-Gassicourt.


General Walker Holding Roadside Conference with General Silvester
General Walker Holding Roadside Conference with General Silvester.

Though some division components were still coming from the beaches, Silvester had three armored columns advancing toward Dreux that afternoon.24

The columns encountered scattered resistance and advanced about fifteen miles to Nogent-le-Rotrou by evening. At that time Silvester received word of the change in objective. He was to move instead to Chartres.25 Silvester immediately notified his subordinate commands of the change in direction, and by the morning of 15 August the forces had shifted and consolidated into two columns.26 The excellent road net, the sparseness of enemy opposition, and good command control had facilitated a difficult readjustment made during the hours of darkness. Yet, despite the shift of armored columns, considerable traffic intermingling occurred on 15 August between the 7th Armored and the 79th Divisions on the approaches to Nogent-le-Roi.

Still mindful of driving to the Seine, General Silvester sent Col. Dwight A. Rosebaum's CCA and Lt. Col. James W. Newberry's CCR north of Chartres and


into the area between Chartres and Dreux; he dispatched Brig. Gen. John B. Thompson's CCB to take the new objective. At the outskirts of Chartres by the evening of 15 August, CCB attacked with two forces. One force entered the town from the northwest; the other sought to enter from the southwest. The latter met determined opposition that came somewhat as a surprise because of the relatively light resistance encountered earlier. At a disadvantage in the failing light, the troops withdrew.

Meanwhile, the 5th Division, which had moved from Angers, was arriving at an area about eight miles southwest of Chartres.

Like the Americans, the Germans were surprised by the effectiveness of the Chartres defenses. The First Army, in command of the area between Chartres and the Loire, had designated Chartres as an "absorption point," where remnants of units (among them the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier and 352d Divisions) and stragglers from the Normandy battlefield were to be reorganized. As at Châteaudun and Orléans, a local commander was in charge of assembling these and rear-area troops (among them students of an antiaircraft training center at Chartres) into a coherent force. On the afternoon of 15 August, as the 7th U.S. Armored Division was approaching, General der Infanterie Kurt von der Chevallerie, the First Army commander, was holding a conference in the town to plan how newly arriving units that Hitler had ordered there--the 48th Division from northern France and the 338th Division from southern France--might best reinforce the defenses west of the Seine in general and the defenses of Chartres in particular. Before the fight for Chartres terminated, regimental-sized portions of both new divisions (the 338th tied to the artillery of the vanished 708th Division) were committed there.27

CCB of the 7th Armored Division attacked Chartres again on 16 August and extended a precarious hold over part of the objective despite active resistance inside the town and the arrival of increasing numbers of new troops in wooded areas just south of the town.28 Corps artillery, cautioned to be careful of the historic town and its cathedral, commenced to fire on 17 August in support of CCB, which encircled Chartres and fought to clear German troops from the town. Since the Germans continued to defend stubbornly, and because tanks were at a disadvantage in the narrow streets, General Walker ordered the 5th Division to aid the armor.

General Irwin, still not altogether informed on the broad picture, wished he had more information on the American armored dispositions, felt that the XX Corps was overextended, and believed that security against enemy infiltration was insufficient. He dispatched the 11th Infantry just as General Walker made his usual telephone call to urge speed. The 11th Infantry attacked toward Chartres on 18 August, and, despite stiff opposition that included tanks and artillery,


Armored Bivouac Area near Chartres
Armored Bivouac Area near Chartres.
The cathedral can be seen in the background.

the combined efforts of armor and infantry succeeded in clearing and securing the remainder of the town.29 More than two thousand prisoners were taken, a large German Air Force installation (including airport, warehouses, depots, a bomb assembly plant, and fifty planes) was captured, and the XX Corps was in possession of a historic gateway to Paris, only fifty miles away.

At the same time, the XV Corps was making its sixty-mile advance from Argentan: the 79th Division toward Nogent-le-Roi, and the 5th Armored Division toward Dreux. The 5th Armored met only a few Germans at lightly defended roadblocks. Although German jamming of radios interfered with communications between unit commanders and the heads of their columns, the troops crossed the Eure River on the morning of 16 August, encircled Dreux, fired at some German troops fleeing eastward, and took the town that afternoon. Nine artillery pieces, six destroyed tanks, and a little more than two hundred


prisoners were captured. The motorized 79th Division, advancing toward Nogent-le-Roi, met hardly a German and on 16 August established a bridgehead on the east bank of the Eure River, thirty-seven miles from Paris.30

Although capture of Orléans and Chartres had placed the XII and XX Corps within striking distance of Paris, the approach to the French capital from Dreux was shorter and considered better. Five bridges across the Eure and a good road net afforded more than adequate accommodations for military movement.31 Despite the attractiveness and the importance of Paris--the most vital communications center in France--the Seine River, not the city, became the foremost Allied objective.

To the Seine and Across

General Bradley had limited General Patton to Dreux, Chartres, and Orléans primarily because of logistical problems. The essential difficulty was that the supply services did not have enough transportation to keep up with the breakout from the Cotentin and the spectacular momentum of the Allied advance.32 It was obvious after the first week in August that the combat gains were outstripping the capacity of the Communications Zone to keep the units adequately supplied. Because of the rapidity of troop movement and the relative paucity of targets, ammunition was less a problem than were gasoline and rations.33 Gasoline consumption, which skyrocketed, and ration requirements, which remained constant, threatened to bring operations to a halt.

In order to keep the troops moving, Allied commanders looked to air supply.34 Nevertheless, only small amounts of supplies actually arrived on the Continent by air in early August, primarily because transport planes were being held in readiness for possible airborne operations at Orléans and Chartres. Once the two cities were captured, use of the transports was less restricted. On 19 August twenty-one C-47's landed forty-seven tons of rations near le Mans in the first delivery of what was to become a daily emergency airlift to the Third Army.35

Although this emergency measure hardly promised to make up all shortages, the temptation to take advantage of the weak enemy opposition at Dreux, Chartres, and Orléans (despite the local resistance at Chartres) was irresistible. After meeting with Hodges and Patton to discuss "spheres of influence" and "zones of action," Bradley on 17 August removed his restriction on going beyond the confines of the Overload lodgment area to the Seine. Since the main enemy forces were concentrated west of the lower Seine (north of Paris), Allied troops advancing to the Seine would in


German Removing Boobytrap under the eyes of a U.S. soldier
German Removing Boobytrap under the eyes of a U.S. soldier.

effect be extending to the river the lower jaw of the Allied trap, which already stretched from Argentan through Chambois to Dreux.36

To conserve gasoline and other supplies, Patton held the XII Corps at Orléans. He instructed the XX Corps to complete the capture of Chartres and at the same time to assume responsibility for Dreux. He directed the XV Corps to drive twenty-five miles northeast from Dreux to the Seine at Mantes-Gassicourt, a town thirty miles northwest of Paris. At Mantes, the XV Corps was to interdict the roads east of the river and disrupt German ferrying operations.37

The 5th Armored and 79th Infantry Divisions of the XV Corps, relieved at Dreux and Nogent-le-Roi by the 7th Armored Division, moved easily to Mantes-Gassicourt on 18 August, set up roadblocks to collect German stragglers, and placed interdictory artillery fire on the river-crossing sites. On the following day a task force of the 79th entered Mantes-Gassicourt and found the Germans gone.

On 19 August, while the XV Corps was discovering that no effective obstacle save the river itself barred a crossing of the Seine, the top Allied commanders were reaching agreement to modify further the OVERLORD planning. Instead of halting at the Seine to reorganize and build up a supply base west of the Seine, the Allied command decided to move immediately into post-OVERLORD operations directed toward Germany.38

To drive across the upper Seine south of Paris and the lower Seine north of Paris would be a comparatively simple maneuver, but the presence of a considerable number of Germans between the Argentan-Falaise pocket and the lower Seine presented an opportunity to complete the destruction of the forces that had escaped the pocket. The Allies estimated that 75,000 enemy troops and 250 tanks could still be encircled west of the Seine.39 If American troops drove down the west bank of the Seine from Mantes-Gassicourt, they might cut German escape routes, push the Germans toward the mouth of the Seine, where the river is wider and more difficult


to cross, and fashion another encirclement inside Normandy.

The major difficulty of a maneuver such as this was the same that had inhibited American activity north of Argentan. At Mantes, the XV Corps was again beyond the zone assigned to the 12 th Army Group. Further advance toward the mouth of the Seine would place the corps across the projected routes of advance of the British and Canadian armies and would surely result in "an administrative headache."40

Although General Bradley offered to lend trucks to transport British troops to Mantes-Gassicourt and suggested that the British move units through the American zone to launch the attack down the west bank of the river, General Dempsey declined with thanks on the basis that his logistical organization could not support such a move. For the Allies then to take advantage of the alluring possibilities at the Seine--disrupting the German withdrawal, bagging additional prisoners among the escapees from the Argentan-Falaise pocket, removing Germans from the British zone, and thus allowing Dempsey to move to the Seine against "almost negligible resistance"--General Montgomery would have to permit further intrusion of American troops into the British sector and accept in advance the administrative consequences. He, Bradley, and Dempsey decided to chance the headache.41

Having decided to send part of Patton's force down the west bank of the Seine, the Allied commanders saw a coincident opportunity to seize a bridgehead on the east bank of the river as a springboard for future operations. The XV Corps thus drew a double mission-- the 5th Armored was to attack down the west bank while the 79th established a bridgehead on the east bank. In his order issued on 20 August, Montgomery cautioned: "This is no time to relax, or to sit back and congratulate ourselves. . . . Let us finish off the business in record time."42 By then, American troops were already across the Seine.

General Wyche had received a telephone call at 2135, 19 August, from General Haislip, who ordered him to cross the Seine that night.43 The 79th was to get foot troops on the east bank at once, build a bridge for vehicles, tanks, and heavy equipment, and gain ground in sufficient depth (four to six miles) to protect the crossing sites at Mantes from medium artillery fire.

In a situation that was "too fluid to define an enemy front line," General Wyche anticipated little resistance. His 79th Division had that day engaged only scattered German groups in flight, had captured nineteen vehicles and a Mark IV tank, and had received only sporadic machine gun fire from across the Seine. The river itself was the main problem, for near Mantes it varied in width from five hundred to eight hundred feet.


Fortunately, a dam nearby offered a narrow foot path across it, and Engineer assault boats and rafts could transport other troops and light equipment. For the bridge he was to build, Wyche secured seven hundred feet of treadway from the 5th Armored Division.

While a torrential rain fell during the night of 19 August, men of the 313th Infantry walked across the dam in single file, each man touching the one ahead to keep from falling into the water. At daybreak, 20 August, as the 314th Infantry paddled across the river, the division engineers began to install the treadway. In the afternoon, as soon as the bridge was ready, the 315th Infantry crossed in trucks. By nightfall, 20 August, the bulk of the division, including tanks, artillery, and tank destroyers, was on the east bank. The following day battalions of the XV Corps Artillery crossed. Antiaircraft units hurriedly emplaced their pieces around the bridge, arriving in time to shoot down about a dozen enemy planes on the first day and to amass a total of almost fifty claimed in four days. To supplement the treadway, engineers constructed a Bailey bridge that was opened to traffic on 23 August. On the east bank, the 79th not only extended and improved the bridgehead, repelled counterattacks, and interdicted highways, ferry routes, and barge traffic lanes, but also dramatically pointed out to the Germans their critical situation by capturing the Army Group B command post at la Roche-Guyon and sending the German headquarters troops scurrying eastward to Soissons.44

The Second Encirclement Attempt

Hitler was wrong on 20 August when he surmised that the Allies intended to capture Paris at once. Yet he guessed correctly that they would try to destroy the forces of Army Group B in the area between Argentan and the lower Seine, primarily by thrusting downstream along the west bank of the river. Hitler did not say how this was to be prevented, but he instructed Model to establish a defensive line at the Touques River with the admittedly "badly battered" Fifth Panzer and Seventh Armies. If Model found a defense at the Touques unfeasible, he was authorized to withdraw for a stand at the Seine. In this case, the Fifth Panzer Army was to provide reception facilities on the east bank of the Seine, protect crossings for the Seventh Army, and at the same time make contact with the First Army, which was to defend the Paris-Orléans gap and prevent an Allied advance toward Dijon.45

Hitler obviously did not appreciate the extent of Fifth Panzer Army exhaustion, Seventh Army disorganization, and First Army weakness. Perhaps he was deluded by self-imposed blindness. Possibly he was the victim of the patently false reports and briefings that were later to become common practice. Perhaps he overestimated the effect of a not inconsiderable number of divisions that had been moving toward the battle zone in Normandy since the Mortain counterattack--the 6th Parachute, the 17th and 18th Luftwaffe Field, the 344th, 331st, 48th, and 338th Infantry--their purpose


to cover Paris and the Army Group B rear. In any event, though Hitler hoped to stop the Allies at the Touques or at the Seine, he was already preparing to organize the Somme-Marne River line for defense.46

Model on 20 August subordinated the Seventh Army to the Fifth Panzer Army (perhaps because Hausser had been wounded and was evacuated), thereby giving Dietrich command of the entire area from the coast to the First Army boundary (Chartres-Rambouillet-northwest outskirts of Paris). On 21 August he spelled out Dietrich's mission. The Fifth Panzer Army was to occupy and hold during the night of 21 August the Touques River-Lisieux-Orbec-Laigle line. Because it was "of paramount importance" to bolster the eastern flank in the Eure sector, Model ordered Dietrich to move all the armored units fit for combat (except those of the II SS Panzer Corps) to the vicinity of Evreux, the area Model considered most threatened. The eventual task of these forces was to regain contact with the Paris defenses of the First Army. Because a firm hold on the Seine River between Vernon and the army boundary was a prerequisite to successful defense in that area, a corps headquarters was to be charged with building defenses there; the arrival of the 49th Division at the Seine was to be accelerated by all available means. "I am stressing in particular," Model stated, "the importance of the sector between the Eure and the Seine River where an enemy breakthrough attempt to Louviers can be expected." The Fifth Panzer Army was to absorb all the Seventh Army headquarters. The armored units of the Seventh Army unfit for combat were to be sent to the Beauvais-Senlis area for rehabilitation under the LVIII Panzer Corps headquarters. Other units of the Seventh Army temporarily unfit for combat were to be dispatched across the Seine for rehabilitation, construction of fortifications along the Seine, and defense of the river line.47

In another order issued the same day, Model informed Dietrich that if the development of the situation required withdrawal behind the Seine, the withdrawal was to be carried out in four steps, through a series of three intermediate positions.48

On that date Dietrich organized his army front into three corps sectors, with the LXXXVI on the coast, the II SS Panzer in the center, and the LXXXI on the left. In compliance with Model's directive, he dispatched an armored group to the Evreux area--the remnants of the 2d, 1st SS, and 12th SS Panzer Divisions under I SS Panzer Corps.49

Despite the orderly appearance of troop dispositions and unit boundaries on a map, the forces were weak. The Seventh Army could not even begin to


prepare an accurate strength report, but Dietrich on 21 August instructed two corps of his army to count their men, tanks, and artillery pieces. The count was discouraging. The I SS Panzer Corps reported that the 10th SS Panzer Division had only a weak infantry battalion (perhaps 300 men), no tanks, no guns; the 12th SS Panzer Division had 300 men, 10 tanks, no artillery; the 1st SS Panzer Division was unable to give any figures. The II SS Panzer Corps reported that the 2d SS Panzer Division had 450 men, 15 tanks, 6 guns; the 9th SS Panzer Division had 460 men, 20 to 25 tanks, and 20 guns; the 116th Panzer Division had one battalion of infantry (perhaps 500 or 600 men), 12 tanks, and no artillery.

A week later the strength of these divisions, plus that of the 21st Panzer Division--all that remained of Model's armored forces--totaled 1,300 men, 24 tanks, and 60 artillery pieces.50

In that intervening week the Allies were driving toward the Seine.

When the XV Corps had been ordered to thrust downstream along the west bank of the Seine from Mantes-Gassicourt and clear the area between the Eure and Seine Rivers, General Hodges (after a conference with Generals Bradley and Montgomery) had been instructed to assist with the First U.S. Army. Hodges was to use the XIX Corps, which had been pinched out of the western portion (upper jaw) of the Argentan-Falaise pocket. In the same kind of displacement from the upper to the lower jaw that the V Corps headquarters had made from Tinchebray to Argentan, the XIX Corps and its divisions were to displace more than a hundred miles in a large and complicated troop movement from the vicinity of Flers to cover the gap between the V and XV Corps--from Gacé to Dreux. The corps moved and by 19 August was concentrated (with the 2d Armored, 28th, and 30th Divisions) in the Mortagne-Brezolles area. From there the XIX Corps was to attack north toward the Seine. The XIX and XV Corps would thus fashion a two-corps drive straddling the Eure River, with the divisions of the XIX on the left attacking to Elbeuf and XV (5th Armored Division) on the right attacking to Louviers.51

The LXXXI Corps, which since 16 August had had the difficult mission of screening the south flank of both German armies in Normandy from Gacé to Paris, was scheduled to defend the Eure River line. When parts of the 344th Division (a static division released by the Fifteenth Army) arrived near Gacé on 17 August, conglomerate forces under the headquarters of Panzer Lehr were pulled out of the line and sent east of the Seine for rehabilitation. Soon afterwards, portions of the 6th Parachute and 331st Divisions came into the sector and were committed on the 344th left (east). The 17th Luftwaffe Field Division, previously employed at Le Havre as a static division, took positions near Dreux so hastily that its commitment could not be executed in an orderly or unified manner. These units were far from impressive;


besides being understrength, they were poorly trained. Yet an SS captain named Wahl, the trains commander of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, had on his own initiative been gathering tanks from all sources (for the most part from the 2d SS, 9th SS, and 2d Panzer Divisions), principally replacement tanks on their way to units; Wahl assembled these to protect the Seine crossing sites. On 19 August combat remnants of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadiers under Fick joined Wahl. Two days later contingents of the 1st SS Panzer Division provided further reinforcement between the Eure and the Seine, and the whole improvised formation became known as Kampfgruppe Mohnke.52 While the 79th Division started across the Seine on the evening of 19 August, a 5th Armored Division liaison officer was carrying from the corps headquarters to the division command post the order to drive downstream. Rain and a black night prevented him from reaching the division until shortly before dawn, 20 August. A few hours later armored units were moving. Referring not only to the celerity of execution of the corps order but also to the Seine crossing, General Haislip declared, "What we did last night was a Lulu."53 There was no doubt about it.

The object of the armored drive down the Seine was to force the Germans as close to the mouth of the river as possible. Between Mantes-Gassicourt and Rouen, the Seine, averaging some five hundred feet in width, was suitable in many places for bridging and had many ferry slips. North of Rouen, the width of one thousand to twelve hundred feet and the tidal range would present the Germans with more hazardous and difficult crossings.54

The first objective of the attack between the Eure and the Seine was to cut the German escape routes leading to the Seine River crossings between Vernon and Pont de l'Arche. Though Montgomery's order issued on 20 August directed an advance "to Louviers, and Elbeuf, and beyond," Patton on the previous evening had instructed Haislip to drive on Louviers and Elbeuf, the latter forty miles from Mantes, until relieved by elements of the XIX Corps; the 5th Armored Division was then to return to Mantes-Gassicourt. A day later Patton limited Haislip and told him to deny the Germans the use of crossing sites as far north as Louviers until relieved by XIX Corps on his left. Haislip designated Louviers, thirty miles from Mantes, as the final objective, and Maj. Gen. Lunsford E. Oliver, the division commander, indicated intermediate objectives at Vernon and at the loop of the Seine near les Andelys, ten and twenty miles from Mantes, respectively.55


Almost immediately after leaving their positions about eight miles northwest of Mantes on 20 August, the 5th Armored Division ran into strong opposition from the kampfgruppe of panzer elements commanded successively by Wahl, Fick, and Col. Wilhelm Mohnke. The Germans fought skillfully, using to good advantage terrain features favorable for defense, numerous ravines and woods in particular. Fog and rain that continued for several days provided additional cover for German ambush parties using Panzerfausts and antitank grenades against American tanks. It took the armored division five days of hard fighting to advance about twenty miles and accomplish its mission.

At 0600, 24 August, XV Corps passed from the control of Third Army to that of First Army. On that day General Hodges informed General Haislip that, starting on the following morning, Second British Army elements (belonging largely to the 30 Corps) were to cross the American zone north of the Pacy-sur-Eure-Mantes-Gassicourt highway and close to the Seine. Haislip was to move the 5th Armored Division south of the British area by 0800, 25 August, leaving reconnaissance troops along the Seine until British relief.56

This order also affected the XIX Corps on the XV Corps left. The XIX Corps had assembled its three divisions in the Mortagne-Brezolles area and on 20 August attacked with two divisions abreast-- the 2d Armored on the left to advance on the Verneuil-Elbeuf axis, the 30th on the right to attack through Nonancourt to Autheuil on the Eure River. General Corlett echeloned the 28th Division to the left rear to protect the corps west flank.57

General Brooks's 2d Armored Division forced crossings over the Avre River, bypassed Verneuil, leaving its reduction to the 28th Division, and continued toward Breteuil. Despite rain, mud, and poor visibility, the armor continued to advance rapidly, bypassing Breteuil, leaving it also to the 28th, and rushed headlong through Conches and le Neubourg toward the Seine. Opposition from the 17th Luftwaffe Field Division and the 344th and 331st Divisions just melted away. Small pockets of infantrymen were easily swept into prisoner of war cages, and jammed columns of motorized and horse-drawn vehicles were smashed, burned, or captured.58 A counterattack launched by the LXXXI Corps with elements of the 1st SS, 2d SS, 2d, and 116th Panzer Divisions had little effect; German troops manifested a stronger inclination to get to the Seine ferries than to fight.

By 24 August 2d Armored Division spearheads were at the southern outskirts of Elbeuf. There they struck stubborn resistance.

From the beginning of the American attack west of the Seine on 20 August, Model and Dietrich had focused their attention on developments occurring on


the Fifth Panzer Army south flank. The relentless pressure exerted by the XIX and XV Corps during four days rolled up the panzer army left flank for almost half the length of the army front. Model's plan, outlined on 21 August, for an orderly retrograde movement in four successive phases, came to naught, and the units on the northern flank of the army, those facing the British, had to accelerate their withdrawal.

All desperate efforts to check the American advance by the weak remnants of panzer divisions, some of which had to be pulled from other parts of the front where they were also badly needed, were to no avail. On 24 August, when American spearheads were approaching Elbeuf, the German commanders foresaw the danger that the remainder of the army might be cut off from the Seine crossings. They therefore deployed the battered splinters of eight panzer divisions along the southern part of the front, between the Risle and Seine Rivers.59

This force, representing the concentration of armored units on the southern flank of the German bridgehead west of the Seine--with part under the II SS Panzer Corps and part under the 116th Panzer Division (once again commanded by Schwerin)--had the mission of protecting the Seine crossings to Rouen. It defended Elbeuf, but not for long.

On 25 August CCA of the 2d Armored Division, reinforced by a combat team of General Cota's 28th Division, launched a co-ordinated attack on Elbeuf and entered the town. The troops secured Elbeuf on the following day, then turned it over to Canadians arriving from the west.60

Meanwhile, General Hobbs' 30th Division on the XIX Corps right had advanced against sporadic resistance and on 23 August, without opposition, occupied Evreux, bypassed by the 2d Armored Division. The 30th remained in its positions and in corps reserve on 24 August. On the following day, upon corps order, two regiments moved north to ground west and south of Louviers, thereby cutting the roads into town from the west. Patrols found Louviers abandoned by the Germans.61

While the XIX and XV Corps were clearing the Eure area from Mantes-Gassicourt to Elbeuf, British and Canadian troops were approaching the Seine from the west. The First Canadian Army had been attacking eastward since 16 August, when units crossed the Dives River in the coastal sector near Mézidon. British airborne troops under Canadian control broadened the offensive by attacking in the marshes near Cabourg. Progress against the German forces that had not been involved in the Argentan-Falaise action was slow, for the withdrawal by the German units outside the pocket was well planned and orderly, with demolitions, obstacles, and mines left in wake of the rear guards. The Canadian army did not reach and cross the Touques River until 22 August, when the 1st Belgian Infantry Brigade,


moving along the coast, arrived at Deauville. On that day Montgomery released the 2d Canadian Corps for an advance to the Seine. Two days later units breached the Touques defenses at Lisieux. Bypassing the city, the Canadians drove on toward Bernay to maintain contact as the German withdrawal to the Seine began to accelerate. On 26 August Canadian forces were at Bourgtheroulde, where they relieved the XIX U.S. Corps of responsibility for Elbeuf. On the following day other Canadian forces in the coastal sector, among them the Royal Netherlands (Princess Irene's) Brigade, approached the mouth of the Seine.

Meanwhile, the Second British Army was also moving east, on the route through Bernay toward les Andelys and Louviers and along the highway through Gacé and Laigle toward Mantes-Gassicourt and Vernon. Little opposed the advance, and British troops met American forces of the XIX Corps at the Risle River.62

During the last week of August the British and Canadians closed to the lower Seine from Vernon to the coast. In accordance with arrangements made on 24 August, Americans of the XIX and XV Corps withdrew along the west bank of the Seine south across the army group boundary. British and American columns alternately used crossroads and completed the transfer of territory with relative ease. The administrative headache earlier envisioned never developed.63

While the Americans were turning over part of the Seine's west bank to the British and Canadians, the Germans were trying desperately to maintain a semblance of order in what remained of their contracting bridgehead west of the Seine. Between 20 and 24 August, the Germans got about 25,000 vehicles to the east bank. But pressed against the west bank, the German units were fast being compressed into the wooded peninsular pieces of land formed by the loops of the river north of Elbeuf and Bourgtheroulde. As Allied artillery fire fell into this area, destroying vehicles and personnel jammed at entrances to river crossings, the Germans fought to maintain defensive lines and keep their escape facilities operating.

With I SS Panzer Corps in command of the 49th Infantry and 18th Luftwaffe Field Divisions on the east bank of the Seine generally south of Louviers, Dietrich on 24 August proposed a reorganization of command for those forces still west of the river--the LXXXVI and LXXXI Corps were to assume control of all the infantry divisions, the II SS Panzer Corps of all the armored divisions. On the following day he put it into effect. He drew his corps boundaries so that the LXXX VI controlled the units on the Fifth Panzer Army right,


the LXXXI those in the center, and the I SS Panzer (on the east bank) those on the left. The armored units under the II SS Panzer Corps and concentrated on the southern flank of the German bridgehead west of the Seine had no designated sector of their own. Though thousands of troops--estimated by the Second British Army between forty and fifty thousand--were still west of the Seine, the Germans were hoping to organize a coherent front on the east bank. There the Fifth Panzer Army would operate in a sector between the Fifteenth Army (in the coastal area south to Le Havre) and the First Army (covering Paris and the rest of the Army Group B front).64

Model on 25 August instructed Dietrich to withdraw the few units still west of the Risle River across the river that night, and all the forces in the Seine River bridgehead behind the Seine in one bound on the following night. Once across the Seine, the army was to organize and reinforce positions in such a manner as to assure successful defense of the river line. In addition, the remnants of the armored units were to be formed into two reserve groups--one to be located northeast of Rouen, the other near Beauvais. The II Parachute Corps headquarters was to move to Nancy for rehabilitation under control of the First Parachute Army. The Seventh Army was to move the remnants of eleven divisions unfit for combat--the 3d Parachute, the 84th, 85th, 89th, 243d, 272d, 276th, 277th, 326th, 363d, and 708th Infantry, plus other splinter units--to the Somme River-St. Quentin area in the rear for rehabilitation. In addition, all elements of these units that could be spared were to construct fortifications along the Somme.65

Thus, though the Germans were preparing to defend along the Seine, the plans seemed impossible of execution. According to one estimate--probably too low--of the battle strength of the Fifth Panzer Army on 25 August, 18,000 infantrymen, 314 artillery pieces, and 42 tanks and self-propelled guns were arrayed against the Allies who, in addition to their overwhelming superiority in the air, in ammunition, and in gasoline supplies, were estimated to have more than 100,000 infantry in line and 90,000 in immediate reserve, 1,300 artillery pieces deployed and 1,100 in reserve, 1,900 tanks in operation on the front and 2,000 more in reserve.66 Holding at the Seine appeared a slim prospect. The Somme River line seemed to offer the only possible position for the next stand.

Before any stand could be made, the troops jammed against the west bank of the Seine had to be extricated and brought across the river. They were virtually trapped. Three days had been necessary in July and early August to move two divisions abreast westward across the Seine toward the front; it was therefore obvious that a crossing in reverse under the unfavorable conditions of late August would allow little more than personnel to get to the east bank. The approaches to the ferries were inadequate, and the remnants of the Seventh Army congested the approaches. By 25 August eighteen major ferries and several smaller ones were still operating


in the Rouen area; miscellaneous boats and rafts made hazardous trips; one small bridge to Rouen was still intact. These facilities were hardly adequate for the thousands of troops who in some instances fought among themselves for transportation across the river. Orderly movement was difficult if not impossible. Though it was generally agreed that tanks were to be saved first, SS formations often insisted that they had priority over all other units, and it was sometimes necessary for high-ranking commanders to resort to the use of force or at least the threat of force in order to carry out the semblance of an orderly procedure. Some "unpleasant scenes" took place at the Seine.67

Despite some disorder and panic, the Germans managed to get a surprisingly large number of troops to the east bank of the Seine, mostly on 26 and 27 August. To the Germans, it seemed that the British and Canadians did not push as hard as they might have. Neither did the Allied air forces seem as active as usual during the critical days of the withdrawal. The Seine ferries that remained in service operated even during daylight hours.68

This achievement was rather hollow. There was no longer any option of defending at the Seine or even hoping for an orderly withdrawal east of the river. The escaping units were weak and close to exhaustion.

In contrast, the Allies, having closed to the lower Seine north of Paris and being in possession of a bridgehead held by the 79th Division, were ready to undertake post-OVERLORD operations east of the Seine.

Through the Paris-Orléans Gap

A day after operations along the lower Seine had started, those directed toward the upper Seine south of Paris began. On 21 August the XX Corps attacked eastward from Dreux and Chartres, the XII Corps from Châteaudun and Orléans. The objective of the two corps, moving abreast, was the Paris-Orléans gap--the Seine River line south of Paris.69

Confronting the two corps was the German First Army, commanded now by General de Panzertruppen Otto von Knobelsdorff, who was trying to gather forces to defend the upper Seine and a line southward through Nemours, Montargis, Gien, and Orléans. His immediate task was to delay the Americans by blocking the main roads until new divisions promised for the Western Front could be brought up to defend the line of the Seine. The only delaying forces available were security troops, local garrisons, antiaircraft detachments, and stragglers from scattered units, all with hopelessly inadequate equipment.

Those portions of the 48th and 338th Divisions that had met the Americans at Chartres fell back to the Seine to join other newly arriving and as yet uncommitted portions that gathered at Melun, Fontainebleau, and Montereau. These were far from impressive forces--the 48th


was without combat experience, inadequately trained, and deficient in equipment; the 338th lacked organic transportation and became partially mobile only after commandeering French vehicles. At Montargis, which Hitler had ordered strongly defended, were assembled the erstwhile defenders of Orléans--fragments of the 708th Division and the usual quota of security troops and supply personnel. The 348th Division and the 18th Luftwaffe Field Division were on the way from northern France to the First Army but were diverted later toward the Seine north of Paris.70

On the American side, General Eddy, former commander of the 9th Division, took General Cook's place in command of XII Corps and was given the mission of driving to the Yonne River at Sens, seventy miles east of Orléans.71 After attaching the 137th Infantry, 35th Division, to the 4th Armored Division, General Eddy on 20 August ordered General Wood to attack. CCA (with a battalion of attached infantry) pushed off in a drive that gathered speed as it progressed. Though the tankers found Montargis defended and the bridge over the Loing River at the town destroyed, reconnaissance troops located a damaged but usable bridge at Souppes-sur-Loing, fifteen miles north of Montargis. Ignoring Montargis, CCA dashed to Souppes-sur-Loing on 21 August, crossed the river, and, against occasional small arms fire, raced to Sens. Spearheads entered the city that afternoon and took the German garrison so by surprise that some officers were strolling in the streets in dress uniform--tourists who had missed the last truck home. Having captured the city, CCA established a bridgehead on the east bank of the Yonne by the morning of 22 August.

To eliminate those Germans concentrated at Montargis, the 35th Division pushed to the western outskirts of the city while CCB of the 4th Armored, which had also crossed the Loing River at Souppes, turned south to outflank the defenses. A co-ordinated attack crushed the resistance and liberated the town on 24 August. After clearing Montargis, armor and infantry proceeded to sweep the area eastward to Sens.

From Sens, CCA of the 4th Armored Division drove forty miles to the outskirts of Troyes on the morning of 25 August. There the bulk of the command launched a frontal attack in desert-spread formation. With tanks approximately a hundred yards apart and tankers firing their weapons continuously, the troops charged across three miles of open ground sloping down toward the city. Inside Troyes, the Germans fought back. Though street fighting continued through the night, the Americans were in possession of the greater part of the city by nightfall. That evening a column crossed the Seine a few miles north of the city. Not until the following morning, when this column drove into the rear of the German garrison, did the battle come to an end.72


Ferrying Jeeps Across the Seine in the Early Morning Fog
Ferrying Jeeps Across the Seine in the Early Morning Fog

Meanwhile, the 35th Division pushed through Joigny to St. Florentin, thereby protecting the corps right flank east of Orléans.

Armor and infantry had worked together smoothly. Crossing their columns west of Montargis, the divisions had performed a difficult maneuver efficiently. Casualties were extremely light, prisoners numerous.

While advancing to the Seine, Eddy had also protected the army group south flank. Patton had relieved him of guarding the Loire River west of Orléans by assigning that task to the VIII Corps. East of Orléans, part of the 35th Division, CCR of the 4th Armored, and cavalry troops patrolled a line from Orléans through Gien to Joigny until the 319th Infantry of the 80th Division moved from Angers to relieve them.73 The other regiments of the 80th Division (attached to the XII Corps) marched from Argentan to assemble near Orléans.

On the left of XII Corps, when General Walker received word to take XX Corps eastward and secure Seine River bridgeheads between Melun and Montereau, reconnaissance patrols of the 7th Armored Division had already moved to Rambouillet and the Seine River. The virtual absence of enemy forces convinced American commanders that little would oppose the advance.74


In driving from Chartres to Fontainebleau and Montereau (fifteen miles apart), General Irwin's 5th Division would cross a wide plateau cut by narrow valleys and two rivers, the Essonne and the Loing, which afforded the Germans outpost positions for Seine River defenses. With Fontainebleau as the primary objective, Irwin committed two regiments abreast on 21 August. The 10th Infantry, on the right, moved to Malesherbes, reduced unexpectedly heavy local opposition, crossed the Essonne River on two bridges still intact, and continued three miles before stopping for the night. The 2d Infantry, on the left, met a strong garrison at Etampes. Unable to reduce the resistance, the regiment encircled the town, isolated the garrison, and set about investing the town systematically. Unwilling to be delayed, General Irwin committed his reserve, the 11th Infantry, in the center. The 11th skirted Etampes on the south and crossed the Essonne River, which proved to be no major obstacle. The 5th Division thus had advanced about forty miles during the day and still had two regiments abreast for a final thrust to the objectives.

On 22 August the 10th Infantry encountered increasing resistance while attacking from Malesherbes toward la Chapelle, which fell that evening. There, the regiment was in position either to reinforce the attack on Fontainebleau or to continue to Montereau. For a while it appeared that reinforcement of the 11th Infantry drive toward Fontainebleau would be necessary, for that regiment had advanced barely five miles on 22 August before running into a counterattack. Early the next morning, 23 August, the resistance faded, enabling the 11th Infantry to move the twelve miles to Fontainebleau before noon.

At the Seine, Lt. Col. Kelley B. Lemmon, Jr., a battalion commander, discovered the bridge destroyed. He swam the river, found five small boats on the east bank, tied them together, and paddled them back for the troops to use to establish a bridgehead. Meanwhile, Capt. Jack S. Gerrie, a company commander, and T. Sgt. Dupe A. Willing-ham, a platoon sergeant, had found a canoe, and they paddled across the Seine to reconnoiter the east bank. Detected by Germans, Gerrie covered Willingham while the sergeant swam back to organize a firing line on the west bank. Under cover of this fire, Gerrie also swam back.75

After a short fire fight with elements of the 48th Division, riflemen began to cross the Seine in random boats found along the bank. By the following day, 24 August, a battalion had paddled across, engineers had installed a treadway bridge, and the entire 11th Infantry was east of the Seine River.

When it had become apparent on 23 August that the defenders of Fontainebleau were about to melt away, Irwin had sent the 10th Infantry on to Montereau. Men of the 10th forded the Loing River not far from its juncture with the Seine, and vehicles crossed at Nemours, already liberated by the FFI. On 24 August, the regiment cleared Montereau. That evening, after engineers brought assault boats to the river, the infantrymen established a


Advancing Under Fire Toward Fontainebleau
Advancing Under Fire Toward Fontainebleau

bridgehead on the east bank of the Seine. In the face of a feeble counterattack by the 48th Division on the following morning, the entire 10th Infantry crossed the river.76

The 2d Infantry, meanwhile, had taken Etampes on 22 August. When it was clear that these troops would not be needed to reinforce the other regiments, they crossed the Yonne River between Montereau and Sens.

The 5th Division had moved rapidly and aggressively almost seventy miles to Montereau and almost sixty miles to Fontainebleau. The attack displayed good command judgment and flexibility of maneuver.

On the left at Dreux, General Silvester's 7th Armored Division had received the mission of driving to Melun and crossing the Seine there, ten miles north of Fontainebleau and twenty-five miles south of Paris.77 Straddling the Seine at the apex of a long, V-shaped bend, the town of Melun is divided by the river into three parts. The principal portion is on the right (east) bank; the modern part is on the left; the third section is on an island in the center of the river, the site of a Roman camp dating from the time of Caesar's Gallic


wars. A highway bridge, still intact, joined the three parts of town.

The problem of taking Melun was not simple since the Seine is 250 to 300 feet wide there. Twisting and turning between steep banks, it presents a serious natural obstacle. The 48th Division occupied a defensive sector fifty miles long between Montereau and Corbeil; at Melun and in possession of dominating ground along the right bank of the Seine was a reinforced infantry regiment.

General Silvester suspected that Melun would be strongly held and doubted that the Germans would permit the bridge across the Seine there to remain intact for long. Charged still with maintaining security at Dreux and mindful of the proximity of Paris, he retained CCB at Dreux. He sent CCR on 21 August directly to Melun to seize the bridge and take the town by frontal assault if possible, to perform a holding mission if not. At the same time, he dispatched CCA in the main effort to cross the river several miles north of Melun and threaten the town from the rear.

CCA on the left and CCR on the right gained thirty miles on 21 August despite rather difficult terrain--steep hills and narrow valleys, thick woods (including the great forest of Rambouillet), and innumerable villages that afforded the enemy excellent opportunities for roadblocks, mine fields, and ambush. On 22 August, though artillery fire near Arpajon delayed CCA, CCR reached the railway embankment on the outskirts of Melun. The bridge across the Seine was still standing and in good condition.

Hoping to take the enemy by surprise, General Silvester ordered CCR to attack at once without an artillery preparation. When the combat command did so, German artillery, automatic weapons, and small arms fire soon halted the attack. Another assault the same evening, this time after an air attack and a twenty-minute preparation by three battalions of artillery, was also unsuccessful. The troops then took defiladed positions and prepared to make a third attack on the following day.

Before the combat command could attack on the morning of 23 August, the Germans destroyed the bridge. Recognizing that CCR, which lacked assault boats, could then perform only a diversionary and holding action at Melun, General Silvester canceled the attack the combat command had scheduled, then turned his attention to CCA, held up near Arpajon.

Prodded forward on 23 August, CCA late that afternoon reached the Seine near the village of Ponthierry, about seven miles downstream from Melun. Since the bridge at Ponthierry was destroyed, armored infantrymen crossed the river in assault boats several hundred yards to the north at the hamlet of Tilly and established a slender bridgehead that evening. Division engineers worked through the night to bridge the river.

Meanwhile, the corps commander, General Walker, had appeared at the CCR command post near Melun late on the morning of 23 August. Dissatisfied with what he considered the idleness of CCR, he ordered an immediate attack. That afternoon armored infantrymen of CCR advanced to the river. Enough of the bridge structure remained to give foot soldiers passage to the island in the middle of the stream. While Walker virtually took control of the local operation, an infantry company scrambled


across the wreckage of the bridge and secured the island.78 The only result of this success was the liberation from a prison on the island of several hundred French felons who fled to the west bank, where civil affairs personnel, military police, and civilian authorities took them into custody. Heavy fire from the east bank of the Seine inflicted numerous casualties on CCR units. The action appeared stalemated.

Downstream at Tilly, however, engineers completed a treadway bridge on the morning of 24 August, and tankers and artillerymen of CCA crossed at once to reinforce the bridgehead and establish blocking positions to the north and east.

Immediately behind came CCB, relieved of its duty at Dreux. Across the river and on the east bank, CCB turned south and drove toward Melun. Hasty mine fields and small roadblocks slowed the advance, but early on 25 August armored columns of CCB entered Melun from the northeast and dispersed the defenders.

As the result of the action by the XII and XX Corps between 20 and 25 August, the Third Army had four bridgeheads across the upper Seine River south of Paris between Melun and Troyes. North of Paris along the lower Seine, the First Army had another bridgehead at Mantes-Gassicourt. And on 25 August, in the most dramatic act of liberation to take place in France, the Allies were securing still another bridgehead across the Seine at Paris.


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