35th Infantry Division Memory

For never forget...
Santa Fe
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Northern France Campaign - 5 July 44 - 25 July 44

Chapter 4

Beyond St. Lo to Vire!

From the end of the St. Lo battle until 27 July, the Division was occupied in cleaning out remaining small groups of resistance and solidifying the area around St. Lo into secure territory. Refugees were beginning to struggle back into the ruined city, and, under the supervision of the Civil Affairs Section, commanded by Major Edward I. Condren, and the French Forces of the Interior, the former residents were slowly rehabilitated.

In order to break through the area of hedgerow defenses and gain a decisive victory in the west, the 1st U. S. Army planned operation "Cobra." This operation called for a complete eruption of the German front lines immediately west of St. Lo with the primary mission of allowing ground troops to break through and drive southward into the area more suited for the use of armor.

On 25 July, more than 3,000 American aircraft, by saturation bombing of enemy positions, opened a five-mile gap in the German lines. On the 26th, American armor streamed through to the south. The next day the 35th (relieved from assignment to the V Corps) moved south from St. Lo to the attack.

Preceded by a ten-minute preparatory fire of all the division artillery and twelve field artillery battalions from Corps, the 320th and 134th Infantries attacked at 1500, 27 July. The 3rd Battalion of the 134th pushed southwest of St. Lo along the main highway and then turned southeast. The 2nd Battalion followed the advance of the 3rd, and the 1st Battalion attacking at 1800, and moved east.

On the following day, the 320th met stubborn resistance until about 1700 and then moved steadily to their initial objective. At 2130 they surrounded a large group of the enemy and took a number of prisoners after inflicting many casualties. The following gives some idea of the battlewise hardness with which the men were rapidly becoming callused.

Company K of the 3rd Battalion of the 320th, under the command of 1st Lieutenant Curtis H. Alloway, Independence MO, with about 120 men, were on the left. They had captured a German parachutist who revealed that the remainder of his company of about 150 men were defiladed in a streambed only 75 yards away. After verifying the report, Company K proceeded cautiously. Presently, with shouts of "Sieg Heil!" and "Heil Hitler" the parachutists stormed down from the ravine, only to be met by intense pointblank fire. A few minutes later another part of the fanatical group attempted to encircle the right of Company K, but were caught by fire from Company I. Further shouts were heard, but no attempt to attack followed. Forty-five Nazis were killed or wounded and thirty were captured.

The 134th also reached its objective about 2100 on 28 July as the 35th advanced 4000 meters during the day. The next day, the 134th and the 320th attacked again and once more the advance was about 4000 meters.

On 31 July the 320th, with elements of the 737th Tank Battalion and the 81st Chemical Battalion attached, drove forward from behind a smoke screen. The battalions were abreast in numerical order from right to left as they advanced in line from St. Amand to La Detourbe. The 1st Battalion, commanded by Major Frank S. Waring of Holyoke Mass., pressed forward and occupied the city of Torigni sur Vire. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions continued their advance until they reached La Pane.

The 134th had also attacked on the 31st at 0815 with battalions abreast, and after reaching their objective west of Torigni, continued southward about 2000 yards against stiffening resistance. During this action Lt. Colonel Alfred Thompson of Omaha, Nebraska, was mortally wounded.

Meanwhile, the 137th had been attached to Task Force "S" under the command of Brigadier General Sebree. Task Force "S" included the 219th Field Artillery Battalion, the 737th Tank Battalion, Company B of the 60th Engineers, Company B of the 110th Medical Battalion, one company from the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion, one platoon of the 35th Reconnaissance Troop, and a detachment from the 35th Signal Company.

It had two objectives: (1) to capture the high ground southeast of Brectouville, and (2) to take, with the division, the high ground north of the Vire River southeast of Tessy sur Vire.

On 31 July, Task Force "S" attacked in a column of battalions at 0618. The 3rd Battalion, 137th leading and the 1st following at 300 yards. The 2nd Battalion was held in reserve. The 3rd Battalion, led by Lt. Colonel Albert M. Butler, Hasting, Nebraska, was held up by mortar, machine gun and artillery fire north of Les Fontaines, about 1500 yards south of Conde sur Vire. By noon they had smashed 500 yards to a bridge south of Les Fontaines.

At 1900 the 3rd Battalion encountered heavy machine gun and mortar fire north of Brectouville. Waiting until the 1st Battalion came up, they reorganized for a determined push to the first objective, reaching it by 2300.

On 1 August Task Force "S" again attacked at 530, with the 3rd Battalion on the right, 1st Battalion on the left and the 2nd Battalion in reserve. Early reports were that the Germans had been digging in all along the front, with no evidence of withdrawal. Nevertheless, the 1st Battalion pushed cross-country with their supporting tanks, attacking down the road approaches. The combined infantry-tank team successfully moved forward toward Brectouville and at 0850 the main body of the battalion was in the town. Infantry patrols probing south from the town reported new half-track and other large vehicle tracks, freshly dug slit trenches and foxholes, indicating that the Germans had just left.

By noon the 1st Battalion was at the stream north and west of Pitaunay, where they were held up by enemy machine gun and mortar fire. At that time the 3rd Battalion had crossed the same stream and was at a point slightly south of le Mt. Hebert.

With a strong enemy line encountered, extending from south of le Mt. Hebert to Pitaunay and west, Task Force "S" reorganized and launched a coordinated attack at 1800. After an advance of 1000 yards, the 1st Battalion again met heavy machine gun and direct 88mm fire. The battalion was hard hit and for a time B and C Companies were cut off. The battalion was forced to fall back and the 2nd Battalion was ordered to move around to the right of it and march on Tessy in order to cut the Tessy-Torigni road. Reports already had been received that Allied armored forces had entered Tessy during the night.

The fighting continued during the night, and a coordinated night attack was made shortly after midnight with the 2nd Battalion jumping off at 0100 and the 3rd Battalion at 0130. By 0800 the next morning the 3rd Battalion was in Domjean.

The 2nd Battalion, now operating on the right of the 3rd, crossed Highway GC13 leading northwest from Tessy, pushed down the east bank of the Vire River, and reached the double bend in the river south of Le Mesnil by 1000. At 1050 the Battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel George T. O'Connell, Emporia, Kansas, reported two of his rifle companies and the heavy weapons company across the river.

With the 2nd and 3rd Battalions across the river, the 1st Battalion remained north of the river to protect the Division's west flank. The attack continued throughout the night, and at 0210 on the morning of 3 August, Company E was on the objective with the entire 3rd Battalion following at 0735.

The weather, which had been clear during the first three days of the attack, became cloudy and overcast, and rain fell during the afternoon, ranging from a light sprinkle north of the Vire River to thundershowers in the south. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions resumed the attack south of the river, moving forward with little opposition until the 2nd Battalion was held up by a dug-in tank destroyer position south of le Fortier at 0940. The battalion knocked out this resistance at 1115 and moved on. At 1225 the advance was again held up by machine gun and mortar fire south of El Gohier and by tanks east of that point. These enemy tanks were driven out by the 737th Tank Battalion at 1320 and shortly after 1400, the 2nd Battalion reached la Tabourie.

The 3rd Battalion in the meantime was receiving heavy mortar and scattered time fire. Increasing resistance held up the advance of the task force during the afternoon. As resistance was built up, contact was made with the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 116th Infantry of the 29th Division closing the exposed flank to the right.

Casualties for the Task Force for the first three days of August were 19 killed, 145 wounded and 9 missing.

But fourteen prisoners had been captured. They were predominantly Nazi in comparison to the foreign soldiers operating north of St. Lo. Most of them were members of the Hitler Youth Movement and retained their faith in their Fuehrer, believing that Germany would eventually win the war. They had been promised by their propagandists that soon "total war" would be waged against the Allies and that the robot planes would be used on the front lines.

At 0630 on 4 August, Task Force "S" continued the attack with the 2nd Battalion on the right and the 1st Battalion, which had been brought across the Vire River, on the left. The 3rd Battalion, after being passed by the 1st, reverted to force reserve. The weather was again clear although the roads were slightly muddy.

Light scattered resistance was encountered at 830, and enemy minefields were reported south and west of Beaumesnil. The 2nd Battalion pushed across the stream south of Beaumesnil, and were reported on the new objective at 1000. The 1st Battalion, after overcoming mortar and machine gun fire, reached the objective at 1100.

Thereupon Task Force "S" ceased to operate as such, and all units comprising it reverted to their former status.

The 320th and 134th, fighting brilliantly on the left of Task Force "S," continued their advance along with it so that all elements of the division reached their objective during the day. A review of operations revealed that in four days the division had advanced almost the entire distance from St. Lo to Vire.

The deadly fire of the artillery did much to force the enemy to withdraw. On 1 August, for instance, the 134th was ordered to attack with the mission of seizing the Vire River. All through the night the 161st Field Artillery Battalion fired harassing and interdiction missions on the enemy's rear positions. The method of fire was one battery volley at each critical point of the German communications network, approximately every thirty minutes. The next morning, 2 August, the infantry was able to move very rapidly against the light enemy resistance because of the effective artillery fire. The number of enemy dead found lying about and numerous blood pools in the area told the story of other casualties which had been evacuated.

During this time the 2nd Division continued to operate on the left of the 35th with the 29th Division on the right.

The 60th Engineer Battalion, under the command of Major Edwin C. Pumroy, had maintained a bridge across the Vire River in the face of heavy enemy shelling, which greatly assisted Task Force "S" in its rapid advance. In five days the Division had mowed down the opposition and had cleared the way for the American advance over what had been feared would be a difficult obstacle.

The work of the 35th was recognized by the following letter and endorsement:

APO 305, U. S. Army
Office of the Commanding General

5 August 1944
SUBJECT: Commendation
TO: Commanding General, 35th Infantry Division.

1. Upon the relief of the 35th Infantry Division from attachment to the V Corps, I desire to express to you, and through you to the officers and men of your division, my thanks and appreciation for their excellent performance while under my command.

2. The 35th Infantry Division was attached to V Corps two days after the beginning of operation "COBRA." They were ordered to make an immediate advance without all of their organic motor equipment, which could not be made available due to traffic priorities. During the eight days which your division fought under this corps, from 28 July to 4 August 1944, it advanced approximately 27 kilometers, took the town of Torigni Sur Vire on the afternoon of 31 July 1944, and later effected a crossing of the Vire River. Despite the fact that it fought continuously against heavy delaying action and over difficult terrain, the 35th Infantry Division reached all of its immediate objectives and its final objective.

3. The foregoing is an achievement of which you and every member of your division can be justly proud. My personal thanks and best wishes for continued success go with each and every one of you.

/s/ L. T. Gerow
/t/ L. T. GEROW
Major General, U. S. Army

To which letter General Baade indorsed the following message to his troops:

201.22, 1st Ind., PWB/mla

Hq 35th INF DIV, APO 35, U. S. Army, 14 Aug 44

TO: All officers and enlisted men, 35th Infantry Division.

1. Again a Corps Commander has seen fit to commend the Division for an achievement of great magnitude. It is just praise and I am exceedingly proud to transmit this communication to you who have contributed your full measure of hard work, and devotion to duty in making the Division so successful.

2. Please have every officer and enlisted man of your command fully informed of the contents of this letter to which I add my own gratitude and congratulations for a job well done.

/s/ Paul W. Baade
Major General, U. S. Army

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