Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Gray Bonnets in Brittany: The Battle for Dinard August 7-16, 1944

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

A World War II Collar Disc of the 121st Infantry Regiment with maps of Brittany, France

Patton Unleashed
On July 31st, 1944, the 121st Infantry Regiment entered corps reserve at LaHay Pesnel, a small French town approximately five miles north of Avranches. While the 121st and the 8th Infantry Division got some badly needed rest, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s 3rd Army, freshly arrived on the Contentin Peninsula was unleashed upon Brittany. Patton dispatched the 4th Armored Division, his old command from pre-war stateside service due south from the vicinity of the 121st assembly area near Avranches to the vital road and railroad hub of Rennes. The 4th AD then proceeded south to take Nantes on the Loire River approximately 20 miles east of the German held coastal town of St. Nazaire. Having reached Nantes on August 12, the 4th AD had traveled 90 miles and effectively sealed off Britanny. The Germans still in place in coastal port cities of St. Malo, Dinard and Brest were cut off from reinforcements.

Map of Brittany showing the progress of the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions. Bluemenson

Meanwhile, the 6th AD was charged with taking the fortified coastal port of Brest which had served as a major port of entry for U.S. forces in World War I. Pattton met with Maj. Gen. Robert Grow, commanding 6th AD and informed him that he had made a wager with General Bernard Montgomery, commanding 2nd Army, that Patton’s forces could reach Brest in five days.[i]

An outside observer considering Patton’s bold order to “take Brest” may have found the tasking impossible when judged against the slow steady advance that had defined the Normandy Campaign. Nevertheless, Patton reasoned that as an exploiting operation, his forces would have much greater impact the faster they traveled. In terms of basic physics, Patton was going to move his armored forces at great speed in order to land with resounding force upon the fortress city and deprive the Germans of the ability to reinforce.[ii] It was hoped that the combination of lightning maneuver and audacity would cause the capitulation of the city and its valuable port facilities. The Allies were in desperate need of a port to admit the supplies needed to sustain the advance. The port of Cherbourg on the Contentin peninsula had been destroyed by the German defenders and it would be months before its facilities could be repaired.
The 6th AD started their advance on August 3, its three combat commands moving parallel along separate routes. In a virtuoso performance of maneuver and bypass, the 6th AD drove west avoiding the German strongholds of St. Malo and Dinard in their drive for the coast of France. Follow-on forces would reduce these enemy strongholds and prevent them from gaining the rear of the 6th AD’s advance.

The 6th AD reached the outskirts of Brest the evening of August 6; however, Crow had no intelligence as to the preparation, array of forces of plan of the German defense that lay ahead of him. Artillery fire from Brest confirmed that he did not possess the element of surprise. Crow attempted to bluff the Germans into surrender and probed Brest’s outer defenses without success.[iii] Realizing that the 6th AD would require additional combat power, Patton ordered the 8th Division to dispatch a battalion to Brest.[iv] The battalion departed August 8, while the rest of the 8th Division prepared for movement into Brittany.

John Taggart of Cordele, Ga. was killed
August 13, 1944 while fighting with
Company L, 121st Infantry. Georgia Archives
Despite the arrival of an infantry battalion from the 8th Division, the 6th AD was still unknowingly facing far superior forces. In addition to the 343rd Division, 2nd Parachute Division and fractured elements of other German units the commander at Brest had the advantage of the ancient fortress and its rocky terrain and network of caves. In addition to possessing an eminently defensible position, the commander had nearly 35,000 troops at his disposal, far more than faced him in the armored formations of the 6th AD.[v] For the time being, Crow abandoned efforts to seize Brest and instead arrayed his forces to prevent German forces from escaping. Time was on the side of the Americans.

The Gray Bonnets Advance
While the 6th AD was probing the lines at Brest, the 121st Infantry Regiment had moved to the vicinity of vil de Bourg.[vi] The regiment was temporarily transferred to the 83rd Division which was part of the follow-on effort to reduce St. Malo. The efforts of the 83rd had been delayed by heavy artillery positions in Dinard which could range the American Forces with plunging, flanking fire. The 121st would move to reduce Dinard and eliminate the heavy artillery threat to forces assaulting St. Malo.[vii]

Soldiers of the 121st Infantry Regiment rest on the march to
Dinard.  Georgia Guard Archives
Just after 1100 hours on August 7, the 3rd Battalion, 121st, encountered the first resistance of the drive to Dinard just north of Pleslin. German machine gun fire from the vicinity of arrested the forward progress of the 3rd Battalion. Forward observers with the 121st called in fire missions and artillery began to pummel Tremereuc as 1st and 2nd Battalion moved up to provide support. The U.S. Artillery barrage prompted an immediate artillery response from German guns farther north. As the afternoon wore on, the artillery fire continued unabated. The 121st consolidated its position and prepared for an advance the following morning.

At 7:00 on the morning August 8, The 2nd and 3rd Battalions assaulted defensive positions but made little progress due to German machine gunners and snipers hidden in French barns and homes. Artillery trained on one of these houses and blasted it only to discover that the house was a fa├žade for a concrete pill box. Round after round of 105 mm ordnance and the efforts of engineers failed to clear the obstacles on the 2nd Battalion front.

With the 2nd Battalion stuck fast the 3rd Battalion maneuvered into an opening in German lines, paralleled a set of railroad tracks and struck north to the vicinity of Pleurtit. The 3rd Battalion was comprised of units with long histories in South Georgia. Company I carried on the tradition of the Baldwin Blues, which was organized in Milledgeville in 1810. Battalion Headquarters and Company K were based in Dublin. The Cordele Rifles of Company L and the Hawkinsville-based Company M rounded out the battalion.[viii]

The following evening, German forces slipped behind 3rd Battalion. Surrounded, and unable to move, the 3rd Battalion was subject to an unrelenting barrage of infantry fire which pinned them to the ground and prevented them from maneuvering. Worse, exploding shells had severed the lines of communication between the 3rd Battalion and the regiment. Nevertheless, Col. Jeter, commander of the 121st Infantry Regiment was able to discern the fate of the battalion from unanswered communication and swiftly ordered 1st and 2nd Battalions to move to support the “Lost Battalion.”

Before its sister battalions could begin movement the 3rd Battalion was subject to intense ground assault by armored and infantry forces. Beginning on the morning of August 9, German attacks were launched in all directions. A direct hit on the battalion command post killed the operations officer and motor transportation officer. Shortly thereafter, a German tank emerged from cover and opened fire from a distance of 500 yards killing several Soldiers. Pvt. Francis Gardiner, a bespectacled Soldier of Headquarters Company went into swift action firing a 57 mm gun. The second round fired by Gardiner struck the turret killing the crew.[ix]

Similar engagements occurred throughout the defense zone of the 3rd Battalion with casualties mounting steadily. Medics established a makeshift hospital in a French farmhouse that became known as the Purple Heart Hotel.[x]

Pfc. John Dewitt Jones of Cordele, Ga.
was killed August 13, 1944 while fighting with
Company L, 121st Infantry. Georgia Archives
By August 10, the 83rd Division was making an all-out effort to reach the 3rd Battalion. Tank destroyers and infantry forces were brought up but were unable to link up with the battalion. Two more days would pass, and the battalion would continue to fight off enemy armor and infantry assaults and contend with an ever constant rain of artillery and mortar rounds. On the morning of August 12, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, augmented by armor, stepped off in a coordinated effort to reach the 3rd Battalion. During the assault, Lt. Col. Burton Morrison, commander of the 1st Battalion was wounded. Captain Arthur Kaiser, leading the assault of the 2nd Battalion led his men through heavily mined barbed wire-choked fields, machine gun and mortar fire ultimately leading them on a bayonet charge against enemy positions. The assault resulted in heavy enemy casualties and the capture of nearly 30 German Soldiers.[xi]

Elements of the 83rd Division eventually made contact with the 3rd Battalion on the afternoon of August 12. The Lost Battalion had been cut off from its regiment for nearly four days and endured repeated assaults and constant artillery bombardment but held the line.

TSgt. John Hamlin of Company A,
121st was killed August 14, 1944.
Georgia Guard Archives
With the 121st reunited and the 83rd ID concentrating combat power, the assault on Dinard was planned for August 14 with the 1st and 2nd Battalions advancing on line while the 3rd Battalion followed in reserve. Advancing in the face of heavy artillery fire, the 121st advanced and by 3:00 that afternoon, the 1st Battalion, once again under the direction of Lt. Col. Morrison, had passed through Dinard and reached the shore of the Atlantic Ocean whereupon they began receiving fire from islands off the coast. The Germans positioned on these islands would soon be subject to a new form of aerial bombardment: napalm.

By the evening of August 14, Dinard was in Allied hands though snipers and pockets of resistance still inflicted casualties. The next day the 121st loaded up into trucks for transportation to their next objective: The fortress of Brest.

The narrative will rejoin the 6th AD and 121st at Brest, but first, the 179th and 945th Field Artillery Battalions will arrive on Omaha Beach and will enter the fray.

[i] Blumenson, Martin. Breakout and Pursuit. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1984, 370.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Blumenson, 382
[iv] Blumenson, 384
[v] Blumenson, 387
[vi] 121st Infantry Regiment. The Gray Bonnet; Combat History of the 121st Infantry Regiment. Baton Rouge, LA: Army & Navy Publishing Co., 1946, 33
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] Carraway, William. "The Georgia Guard on the Eve of War: May 1939." May 23, 2019.
[ix] 121, 34.
[x] 121, 35.
[xi] 121, 36.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Historic Georgia Guard Units Join the Fight in France: The 179th and 945th FA Battalions Enter the ETO August 12, 1944

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Collar discs and unit insignia of the 179th Field Artillery Battalion and its
predecessor, the 122nd Infantry Regiment are flanked by source
books used in the writing of this chapter. Photo by Maj. William Carraway
Once More unto The Breach
In the late hours of August 12, 1944 while German armor was withdrawing from Mortain, the Georgia National Guard’s 179th and 945th Field Artillery Battalions arrived off the coast of Utah Beach. They were the last of seven Georgia National Guard battalions to arrive for service in France, and although their landing occurred more than two months after the D-Day Landings of June 6, 1944, the night sky was alive with tracer fire and artillery. From the landing ships, the Soldiers could observe a U.S. Navy destroyer engaging some inland target which was illumined only by the impact of rounds against the black mass of the French countryside. The Artillerymen would soon send their own rounds against German targets in the effort to liberate the continent.

Prelude: 1857-1890
Soldiers of the 1st Georgia (Ramsey's) Volunteers in April 1861. 
Georgia Guard Archives.
The 179th Field Artillery traced its lineage to the founding of the Gate City Guards in 1857. The Guards were the premier antebellum unit of Georgia and served as the honor guard for the governor. [i] With the coming of the American Civil War, the Gate City Guards replaced their fine dress uniforms with the sack coats and brogans that marked a unit of the line. The Guards served from Florida to Virginia as Company F, 1st Regiment (Ramsey’s), Georgia Volunteers.[ii] By the time the unit surrendered at Appomattox Court House, only a shattered remnant remained.

 Such was the reputation of the Gate City Guard that Margaret Mitchell’s character Charles Hamilton in Gone With the Wind is uncertain whether to enlist in the Cavalry of Wade Hampton or the Gate City Guards.[iii]

On July 24, 1874, The Atlanta Battalion, Georgia Volunteers was organized. The Gate City Guards was reauthorized as part of the battalion along with the Atlanta Zouaves, Atlanta Rifles, Fulton Blues and the Governor’s Guards. The Atlanta Battalion was redesignated the 4th Battalion, Georgia Volunteers April 16, 1890. Three years later, the battalion was expanded and redesignated the 5th Infantry Regiment.[iv]

Soldiers of the 5th Georgia Infantry Regiment in 1896
on the eve of the Spanish American War.
Georgia Guard Archives
Glory Denied
During the Spanish American War, Georgia organized three volunteer regiments. Elements of the 5th Infantry Regiment were consolidated with other Georgia Guard units to form the 2nd Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The 2nd GVI was mustered into federal service In May 1898 at Griffin, Ga. The regiment advanced to Tampa, Fla. May 21, 1898.[v] Less than a week later, the 2nd was assigned to the Seventh Army Corps commanded by former Confederate Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee. The 2nd initially received orders to deploy to Cuba then Puerto Rico, but ultimately, transportation was not available by the time the war ended. The volunteers of the 2nd GVI returned to Georgia and were mustered out of federal service in November along with the 1st GVI and Georgia Light Artillery.[vi]

Georgia Infantry Regiments formed for inspection at Camp Cotton, El Paso, Texas in 1916. Georgia Guard Archives.
The Mexican Border Mission
On July 31, 1916, the Georgia Guard was brought into federal service and mobilized for the Mexican Border in response to cross border incursions by Pancho Villa. While Guard units, including the 5th Infantry, returned to Georgia in March 1917, they were not mustered out of service. Instead, most of the units were dispatched to Camp Wheeler near Macon, Ga. to begin the training for World War I deployment. On October 31, 1917, the regiment was redesignated as the 122nd Infantry Regiment.

Glory Denied Once Again
The 122nd sailed for France October 7, 1918 with other units of the 31st Division. Shortly after arriving in France, the 31st Division was skeletonized, and its Soldiers used to provide replacements to units all along the Western Front. What remained of the 122nd returned to Georgia and was mustered out of federal service at Camp Gordon January 14, 1919.

After the war, the 122nd went through a series of reorganizations before was once again redesignated the 122nd Infantry Regiment June 9, 1924.

Prelude to World War II
On July 1, 1939, the battalions of the 122nd were converted and redesignated. The 3rd Battalion with units based in Elberton, Cedartown and Calhoun became the 2nd Battalion, 214th Field Artillery Regiment. This battalion would see service in the Pacific Theater as the 950th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion. The lineage of the 950th AA AWB is perpetuated by the 1st Squadron 108th Cavalry Regiment.[vii]

Battery F, 179th FA at Camp Blanding in 1941. Georgia
Guard Archives
The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 122nd converted to form the 179th Field Artillery Regiment. The 179th entered federal service February 24, 1941. After one week at home station, the 179th was sent to Camp Blanding near Jacksonville, Fla. along with their newly issued 155 Schneider Howitzers to begin initial training.[viii]

One of the Soldiers who accompanied the 179th to Camp Blanding was 26-year-old Staff Sgt. Charles R. Turner of Atlanta. Turner was employed as a custodian for the Atlanta Public School System when he enlisted as a private in Company A, 122nd Infantry in 1933. By the time he reached Camp Blanding, Turner was a staff sergeant assigned to Service Company, 2nd Battalion 179th FA. Also arriving at Camp Blanding was Sgt. Corbett Ward Clark of Battery E, 179th FA. In a 2003 interview with the Atlanta History Center, Clark recounted the atmosphere of tension and inevitability that filled the ranks at Blanding.

“The government mobilized the National Guards before Pearl Harbor. We knew that the war was coming, and we knew…everybody knew that the United States would be involved in it before it was over.”[ix]

The U.S. Enters World War II
Upon arrival at Camp Blanding, the 179th, under the command of Col. Thomas Alexander, was assigned to the 74th Field Artillery Brigade, IV Corps.[x] Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the 179th was employed as part of the coastal defenses near Jacksonville.

In mid-December, six officers and 160 enlisted men of the 179th were reassigned to form the core of the newly formed 774th Tank Destroyer Battalion. It was the first of many such reassignments as Soldiers volunteered for service in the Airborne and Air Corps.

Training and Transformation
Technical manual that belonged to Staff Sgt.
Charles Turner, 179th FA. Georgia Guard Archives
 The 179th remained at Camp Blanding through the winter of 1941 and in March 1942 moved by truck to Camp Shelby, Miss. The trip took the battalion three days to complete.[xi] During their stay at Camp Shelby, the 179th participated in the Louisiana Maneuvers and conducted firing drills.

On February 8, 1943, the 179th Field Artillery Regiment underwent its most dramatic transformation since its conversion from the 122nd Infantry four years previous. The second battalion was designated the 945th Field Artillery Battalion while the 1st Battalion was designated the 179th FA Battalion. The former regimental headquarters constituted the 179th FA Group.[xii] Sergeant Clark recalled this time of change.

“They’d call in and say, ‘We need people who’d formerly worked for the railroad’ and they’d form railroad battalions and they went to North Africa and then sometimes they formed military police units and they’d call for people who’d been policemen and all that type duty. And they’d break out from the unit. Then we’d keep getting replacements into the unit to make for them. And then finally, they split our (regiment), the whole field artillery into two units.”[xiii]

Shortly after the reorganization, Turner and Clark were reassigned to the 694th FA Battalion. Rather than serving in France, the men would deploy to the Pacific Theater. 

On March 7, 1943 the 179th FA relocated to Fort Sill, Okla. With the 945th FA arriving the next month. Shortly after arrival, the battalions participated in the Tennessee Maneuvers. At the conclusion of the maneuvers in March 1944, the battalions returned to Camp Gruber where their howitzers were upgraded to the M1 155 mm Howitzer.[xiv] Shortly thereafter, the units received their mobilization alert.

Headquarters Battery, 179th FA. Georgia Guard Archives
After a four-day train ride, the battalions reached Camp Myles Standish, Mass. In the last days of June. [xv] On July 2, the battalions boarded the USS Brazil, a converted luxury liner, and set sail for Scotland the next day.[xvi]

After ten days sailing over rough seas, enduring cramped quarters, the Soldiers arrived in Gourock Scotland, the same port in which the 230th FA Battalion had arrived nearly five months earlier.[xvii] The next day the battalions travelled by train to Warwickshire, England. Here, the battalions received their full complement of combat equipment and vehicles and calibrated their howitzers for accurate fire. In preparation for movement to France, the battalions were assigned to the Third Army, 182nd Field Artillery Group.

Battery A, 179th FA. Georgia Guard Archives
Entering Combat
In the early morning hours of August 9, the battalions left camp and arrived at their marshalling area under drizzly, misty conditions.[xviii] The men crowded onto landing craft and endured hours of waiting before the craft slipped their moorings and embarked from Plymouth Harbor. The convoy was escorted by the HMS Rodney and a cluster of destroyers which, upon approaching Normandy, unleashed a bombardment on inland targets.[xix]

Battery B, 179th FA. Georgia Guard Archives
The landing craft were directed to a narrow patch of land marked by engineer tape that indicated the section of beach that had been cleared of mines and obstacles by engineers.[xx] The two battalions landed from 8:00 p.m. to midnight and proceeded to offload gear and equipment.[xxi]  Each battalion was armed with 12 M1 155 mm howitzers, 21 M2 50 caliber machine guns and 40 anti-tank rockets. In addition, the battalions were equipped with more than 60 vehicles including tractors, trucks, weapons carriers and reconnaissance vehicles.[xxii]

Battery C, 179th FA. Georgia Guard Archives
The battalions moved off the beach and encamped near St. Mere Eglise on August 13 where they spent a jittery first night in a war zone. The battalions continued on to Le Mans where they rendezvoused with XII Corps. Having linked up with Patton’s Army, the battalions were poised to participate in the campaigns of the Third Army crossing France, participating in the Battle of the Bulge and proceeding on to Germany.

Service Battery, 179th FA. Georgia Guard Archives
The next chapter of the History Blog will follow the 121st Infantry in the attack on Dinard, France and the origin of the 3rd Battalion's nickname as The Lost Battalion.

[i] History and Battle Record of 179 F.A. Bn., 1857-1945. Regensburg, Germany: Frederich Putset, 1945, 1. 1857-1945
[ii] 122nd Infantry Regiment. Foote and Davies, Inc. Atlanta, 1958, 63.
[iii]Mitchell, Margaret, Gone with the Wind. Simon and Schuster, 2007, 176
[iv] 122nd, 63.
[v] Carraway, William. “The Georgia Volunteers in the Spanish American War.” April 25, 2018
[vi] Ibid
[vii] Center for Military History. Lineage and Honors Certificate, 108th Cavalry Regiment. N.D
[viii] Historical and Pictorial Review 179th Field Artillery. The Army and Navy Publishing Company, Nashville 1941, 18
[ix] Pace, Hayden. "Oral history interview of Corbett Ward Clark." 2003-09-10. August 20, 2019.
[x] 74th Field Artillery Brigade, U.S. Army, Camp Blanding, Fla., 1941
[xi] 179th, 2
[xii] War Department, General Order #1, March 3, 1943
[xiii] Pace.
[xiv] Cosgrove, William M. Time on Target: the 945th Field Artillery Battalion in World War II. W. M. Cosrove III, 1997, 39. 
[xv] 179, 4
[xvi] Ibid
[xvii] Carraway, William. “First to Fire: The Georgia National Guard’s 230th Field Artillery in Normandy” June 27, 2019
[xviii] Cosgrove, 52
[xix] 179th, 11.
[xx] Cosgrove, 53.
[xxi] 170th, 11.
[xxii] Cosgrove, 50.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Germany’s Desperate Gamble: The Georgia Guard and the 30th Division at Mortain, August 7-13, 1944

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard
On the route of march of the 30th Division, the 118th FA and 230th FA Battalion 
Soldiers passed this destroyed Sherman Tank and German Stug.

German Situation
In the early morning hours of July 31, 1944, German forces were falling back from St. Lo west to Avranches. American armor was streaming through several breaches followed by the inevitable crush of infantry. At the headquarters of OB West, Generalfeldmarschall Gunther Von Kluge monitored the increasingly bleak situation. Having ordered his Seventh Army to withdraw he was also trying to retrograde the LXXXIV Corps, but his headquarters was unable to establish contact.[i] Two of his panzer divisions had been smashed by the aerial bombardment that preceded Operation Cobra before any of their tanks could fire a shot. Another five divisions had been virtually destroyed and five more divisions, positioned in Brittany, were cut off and subject to annihilation.[ii] The situation was grave from Kluge’s perspective and that perspective was informed by a lifetime of military service in two world wars.
Generalfeldmarschall Gunther Von Kluge, 
commander of OB West.  National Archives.

Kluge enlisted in 1901 and served on the Western front during World War I.[iii] He rose through the ranks during the interwar period and by 1939 was a lieutenant general commanding the 4th Army. Kluge’s 4th Army participated in the invasion of Poland and France. Transferred to the Eastern Front, Kluge commanded the 4th Army during Barbarossa, the Battle of Moscow and was promoted to command of Army Group Centre. Seriously injured in a car accident in October 1943, Kluge was unable to return to duty until July 1944 whereupon he was placed in command of OB West after his predecessor had been relieved for expressing that the war in the west was lost.[iv] By July 31st, Kluge had reached the same conclusion. More than 20,000 Germans had been captured during Operation Cobra, and American forces were driving unassailed through Brittany and for the flank of German forces holding Caen.[v] Realizing that his forces could no longer offer an effective defense, Kluge realized that someone would have to tell the Fuhrer.[vi]

American Situation
While Kluge was considering Adolf Hitler’s reaction to events in France, Soldiers of the 30th Division went into corps reserve near St. Romphaire south of St. Lo and enjoyed three days of much needed rest after 51 days of combat. Having passed through the ruined corpse of St. Lo, the 230th and 118th FA Battalion, formerly of the Georgia Army National Guard, arrived in the reserve area and received clean uniforms. The enterprising executive officer of the 118th FA, Maj. H. S. Bowden procured tentage and erected a tent to show movies[vii] while the 230th FA had to enjoy their picture shows in a local barn.[viii] 
Soldiers of the 30th Infantry Division enjoy a USO show featuring movie star 
Edward G. Robinson, who recently starred in the World War II set piece Tampico. 
Quartermaster units erected shower tents and the men enjoyed a much welcome hot shower. Popular actor Edward G. Robinson visited St. Romphaire with the USO, entertained the troops and signed autographs. It was a welcome change from constant combat interspersed with brief rest periods in hand-dug foxholes. Near the end of their rest period, Maj. Gen. Leland Hobbs, 30th ID Commander spoke to the Soldiers of the 230th FA telling them they had fired as many rounds as any in Normandy. Hobbs’ words were received with appreciation and trepidation as many interpreted his words to be a harbinger of movement.

The German Plans Develop
In less than two weeks, Fuhrer Adolf Hitler had survived an assassination attempt and learned of the disintegration of German defenses in France. Growing increasingly isolated following the failed attempt on his life, and losing patience and faith in his generals, Hitler assumed personal role in directing the German response to allied gains. On August 2, he ordered Kluge to retake Avranches, France and to cede no more territory to the allies.[ix]

Kluge objected that the German forces would be better served by retiring and establishing a defensive line along the Seine River, but dutifully relayed the Fuhrer’s orders. He was then faced with the prospect of pondering how to carry out the order. Surveying his order of battle, he could not find a unit that was not decisively engaged along the front lines with the American 1st and British 2nd Armies. He could not shift forces from Caen in the East without weakening the lines facing British forces there. A glimmer of hope came when Hitler permitted Kluge to shorten his lines allowing him to free up units. Additionally, one panzer and seven infantry divisions were moving to Normandy as reinforcements.[x]  With these considerations, Kluge proposed four panzer divisions, the 1st SS, 2nd SS, 2nd and 116th be committed to the attack. His proposal was approved, and Kluge ordered the XLVII Panzer Corps in motion. These Divisions were pulled from the line, and by August 6, were assembled east of Mortain, France along with two infantry divisions and the remnants of the Panzer Lehr Division.[xi]

The 30th Infantry Division Moves South
 Mortain in 1944.
At 1:00 on the morning of August 6, the 230th moved out, travelling through Percy and Villedieu before arriving in a small village west of Mortain, France.[xii] The 118th moved out under the cover of a fog that had descended overnight. The 118th reached Percy at 7:30 the morning of the 6th and were motioned forward by military police of the 30th MP Company, formerly of the Georgia Guard. Travelling south, the roads became increasingly choked with French refugees fleeing with their precious household items stowed in carts or in automobiles.

The terrified looks on the faces of the fleeing French civilians created a sense of foreboding that was countered upon relieving the Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division who assured them that the sector was quiet and would give the 30th Division no trouble.[xiii] The 118th began to dig fire positions in support of the 117th Infantry Regiment. Nearby, the 230th FA had completed their firing positions and were prepared to provide fire support to the 120th Infantry Regiment.

By the early afternoon, the Georgia Guard artillery units had dug in and established liaison with their supported units. All seemed calm.

Just after 4:00 pm, the sound of approaching aircraft drew no particular attention as the men had grown accustomed to the constant drone of P47 Thunderbolts passing overhead. This lack of concern abruptly ended when rockets and machine-gun fire from a dozen German FW-190 fighter aircraft shrieked into their firing positions causing the men to dive into their foxholes.[xiv] Less than 24 hours after relieving the 1st Infantry Division from this safe sector, the men were beginning to doubt the prognosis of the Big Red 1. These doubts intensified that evening when Battery B of the 118th received a fire mission from an observer with the 117th Infantry Regiment. The fire mission called for high explosives, troops and tanks in the open. Over the next two hours the battery fired more than 430 rounds, the fire missions interrupted only by strafing and bombing runs by Luftwaffe aircraft.[xv]

German gains on August 7, 1944.  Blumenson, Map X.

German Steel and American Resolve

Shortly after midnight on the morning of August 7, tanks of the 2nd SS Panzer Division surged forward overrunning Mortain with little opposition. The German thrust had bypassed the 2nd Battalion, 120th Infantry Regiment positioned on Hill 317 just east of Mortain. Isolated from the rest of the 30th Division, the Soldiers were afforded a panoramic view of attacking German tanks to their south. First Lt. Charles Barts and 2nd Lt. Robert Weiss, forward observers of the 230th FA were present with the 120th. Taking advantage of the clear view of the German attack the men called fire missions to the 230th FA who commenced to fire the first of the 8,000 rounds it would fire over the course of the Battle of Mortain.[xvi] 
German armor knocked out near Mortain.

Elements of the 2nd SS Panzer Division continued their drive west towards St. Hilaire, securing the southern flank of the advance and threatening to carry the attack to Avranches.[xvii] North of Mortain, the 2nd Panzer Division bypassed the 117th Infantry Regiment and drove west to le Mesnil-Adelee. There rapid advance was checked just west of the town.[xviii] Spread out as they were, the columns of the 2nd SS and 2nd Panzer Divisions were ripe targets for the 118th and 230th FA. Round after round crashed down upon the armor columns. British Typhoon fighter-bombers released bombs and rockets on the line of Panzers whose blazing hulks and columns of thick smoke gave witness to the effectiveness of the artillery and aerial bombardment.[xix]

By the afternoon of August 7, the German advance had largely ground to a halt due to effective artillery fire, complete air superiority over the battle space and serendipitous location of adjacent units. The 1st Army was able to rush reinforcements to seal off the gaps preventing an all-out penetration of the kind realized during Operation Cobra.[xx]

Horrified by the destruction being visited upon the attacking divisions, Kluge was dumbfounded when Hitler dispatched orders on the afternoon of August 7 that the attack be pressed “regardless of risk.”[xxi] Communicating Hitler’s orders to his subordinates, Kluge observed, “I foresee that the failure of this (continued) attack (to Avranches) can lead to collapse of the entire Normandy front, but the order (from Hitler) is so unequivocal that it must be obeyed.”[xxii]

Lt. Col. Lewis Vieman, commander
of the 230th FA
Meanwhile, the Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 120th were encircled by German armor and infantry on their hilltop position east of Mortain. Running desperately low on ammunition and in need of medical supplies for the growing number of casualties, the forward observers radioed their condition back to the 230th. Receiving the message, Lt. Col. Lewis Vieman, commander of the 230th, conceived a bold plan of supplying the battalion. Maj. Richard Evans and Capt. Bruce Stern directed that smoke rounds be hollowed out and filled with medical supplies – plasma, bandages and morphine. These shells were then fired on a trajectory to land within the lines of the besieged 2-120th.[xxiii]  The first of these shots were fired on August 10, and although the plasma bags shattered on impact, the retrieval of bandages and morphine by the surrounded Soldiers greatly improved morale.[xxiv]

By August 11, it was clear that the German attack had failed. The 118th FA efforts shifted from supporting front-line troops to harassing retreating German columns.[xxv] 

The next day, 300 Soldiers of the 2-120 along with the two 230th FA observers walked off Hill 317. They were all that remained of the force of 700 that had been placed there on August 6.[xxvi]

By August 12, the German Panzer columns were in full retreat. Moving with the column eastward were Lt. Webster Lee and Sgt. J. L. Bushnell of the 230th FA who had been captured on August 7.[xxvii] They left behind more than 100 smoldering tanks in the Mortain sector, tanks that would be desperately missed in the coming weeks as the Allies moved to envelope what remained of German resistance in the Falaise Gap, which would prove to be the decisive battle of the Battle of Normandy. [xxviii] Georgia Guardsmen of the 118th and 230th FA were justifiable proud of the role the played in the action that led to the closing of the Falaise Gap. First Lt. John Jacobs, historian of the 230th noted that when Lt. Gen. Kurt Dittmar was captured in Germany in 1945, he remarked that the war had been lost in the west when the attack at Mortain failed.  Jacobs observed “Yes, he remembered which division was at Mortain – the 30th.”[xxix]

While the Americans rejoiced at their apparent victory, the danger was not yet over. On the evening of August 12, Capt. Shelby Hildebrand, commander of Battery A, 118th FA was killed by small arms fire while checking the security of the battalion perimeter.[xxx]

Five days later, with Allied forces tightening their grip on encircled German forces in the Falaise Gap, a staff car arrived at the headquarters of OB West. Kluge received Field Marshal Walter Model who delivered the news that Kluge had been relieved of command.[xxxi] Suspicious of Kluge’s refusal to continue offensive action against the rapidly closing Falaise Gap, Hitler had ordered Model to replace Kluge who was to return to Germany to face the Fuhrer’s judgment.

The next day as he prepared to depart his headquarters Kluge drafted a letter for the Fuhrer.

“…The German people have suffered so unspeakably that it is time to bring the horror to a close… I have steadfastly stood in awe of your greatness, your bearing in this gigantic struggle…If fate is stronger than your will and your genius, that is Destiny. You have made an honorable and tremendous fight. History will testify this for you. Show now that greatness that will be necessary if it comes to the point of ending a struggle which has become hopeless…”[xxxii]
While enroute to Metz. Kluge swallowed a potassium cyanide capsule. He was buried at home with no fanfare and no public accolades. The Fuhrer failed to heed the advise of his field marshal and the horror and suffering would continue in Europe until Germany’s unconditional surrender more than nine months later. By then, The Fuhrer, like Kluge would be dead by his own hand. But until that time, the war would go on.

Subsequent chapters will focus on the arrival of the Georgia National Guard’s 179th and 945th Field Artillery Battalions on Utah Beach and the 121st Infantry Regiment's efforts to take Dinard.

[i] Blumenson, Martin. Breakout and Pursuit. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1984, 323.
[ii] Blumenson, 442.
[iii] Barnett, Correlli. Hitler's Generals. Grove Weidenfeld Publications. 1989, 395.
[iv] Barnett, 405.
[v] Blumenson, 331.
[vi] Blumenson, 323.
[vii] Smith, Gordon Burns. History in Action: 118th Field Artillery, 30th Infantry Division 1942-1945, 2nd Edition. Washington, D.C.: Florida “Gator” Chapter, 1988, 46.
[viii] Jacobs, John et al. On the Way: A Historical Narrative of the Two-Thirtieth Field Artillery Battalion Thirtieth Infantry Division. Poessneck, Germany: F. Gerold Verlag, 1945, 24.
[ix] Blumenson, 420.
[x] Bumenson, 421.
[xi] Blumenson,423.
[xii] Jacobs, 24.
[xiii] Smith, 48.
[xiv] Jacobs, 25.
[xv] Smith, 49.
[xvi] Jacobs, 26.
[xvii] Blumenson, 462.
[xviii] Blumenson, 463.
[xix] Smith, 49.
[xx] Blumenson, 475.
[xxi] Blumenson, 464.
[xxii] Blumenson, 465.
[xxiii] Jacobs, 26.
[xxiv] Blumenson, 489.
[xxv] Smith, 52.
[xxvi] Blumenson, 489.
[xxvii] Jacobs, 27.
[xxviii] Blumenson, 490.
[xxix] Jacobs, 27.
[xxx] Smith, 52.
[xxxi] Blumenson, 531.
[xxxii] Blumenson, 536.

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