In the boxing analogy, Patton wanted to throw a roundhouse right and get the bout over; his superiors ordered him to throw a short right hook to knock the enemy off-balance. But the enemy already was staggering. He should have been knocked out. Should it fall back? Get out of Normandy and across the Seine while the getting was good? That was what his generals wanted to do because it made obvious military sense. But Hitler hated to retreat and loved to take risks. Where his generals saw the jaws of a trap closing on them, he saw a once-only opportunity to go for the American jugular. As Patton began his short right hook, swinging his divisions north, a glance at the map showed Hitler that the corridor through which Third Army received its supplies was exceedingly narrow about 30 kilometres and thus vulnerable.
By bringing down more infantry and tankers from north of the Seine, Hitler told Kluge that he would have ample troops to cut that corridor. With these fresh troops Kluge could mount a full-scale counteroffensive. It would start at Mortain, objective Avranches. Once the line had been cut, Patton could be destroyed in place. The Germans could force the fighting back into the hedgerow country, perhaps even drive the Americans back into the sea. Kluge and every soldier involved thought it madness. Beyond the problems of the Jabos and American artillery, these new divisions were not well equipped-few Panthers or Tigers-and anyway they were not fresh troops.
He recalled, "Most of our people were old soldiers from the Eastern Front. Many of our wounded had returned. We also received parts of a training division, teenagers who had just been inducted and were not trained. To begin an attack with the idea that it is without hope is not a good idea. We did not have this hope. Because Hitler mistrusted his generals, he took control of the battle, which forced him to use the radio, allowing Ultra-the British deciphering device-to reveal both the general plan and some of the details.
So on August 5 Eisenhower knew what was coming: six German armoured divisions. Between them and Avranches stood one American infantry division-the 30th. Despite the numbers, no one in the American high command doubted that the 30th, supported by Thunderbolts and British Typhoons and American artillery, could hold.
Eisenhower told Patton to keep moving. In Elsenhower's view the Germans were sticking their heads in a noose. On the morning of August 7 he flew to Normandy and met with Bradley, who agreed to hold Mortain with minimal forces while rushing every available division south, through the corridor and out into the interior. It had achieved tactical surprise and by noon was in Mortain. But the Germans could not dislodge the men of the 2nd Battalion, th Infantry Regiment, 30th Division, from an isolated bluff.
Hill , just east of the town. The GIs on the hill had a perfect view of the surrounding countryside, and forward observers with a radio system that allowed them to call in artillery and Jabos. The Germans had to take that hill before driving on to the coast.
Before dawn on the next day, August 8, one of the forward observers, Lieutenant Robert Weiss, heard, more than he saw, a concentration of German tanks milling around at a roadblock set up by the GIs the previous night. He had the coordinates already fixed and called in a barrage. Our guys lay motionless, not a breath, not a sound. In the dark the tank found nobody to fight. It turned and went back to its lair. With daylight German 88s began shelling the hill. At the top there was a rocky ridgeline. Weiss crawled up to it and lifted his head. He had a panoramic view, but there was the great danger that the Germans would spot him as he spotted them, especially as the sun was coming up and there was a reflection off his binoculars.
He sucked in his breath, called his radio operator forward, and started crawling to the top of the crag. The sun glared. Head low, body flattened, elbows stretched far apart and resting on the ground, binoculars up to his face, Weiss searched and waited. The Germans began firings and mortars. He called out to Sergeant Corn, "Fire Mission. Enemy battery," and gave the coordinates. Corn passed it on down to Sasser, who radioed in the coordinates.
I shouted an adjusting command to Corn who passed it quickly to Sasser and on to battalion. The next salvos were right on target. Shells came in from the left from six enemy self-propelled guns. Weiss repeated the sequence with similar satisfactory results. Then a single tank and yet another battery fired on Hill Weiss called in a barrage on the tank that set it ablaze, then turned his attention to the battery.
The follow-up rounds were on target. Weiss called for some thirty fire missions that day, scrambling up the ridge each time the Germans began firing. Some half-dozen other observers were doing similar work that day. Montgomery and Bradley agreed that the Americans should halt outside Argentan to await the Canadians with the Polish 1st Armoured Division in the lead coming down from Falaise. When they met, the entire German army in Normandy would be encircled.
The men of the 2nd Battalion of the 30th Division were on their own. By not reinforcing Hill , Bradley tempted the Germans to keep on pushing west. But how long could the men on the hill hold out? For five days the hill was surrounded. While the Americans and Canadians were closing the envelopment behind them, the Germans continued the offensive. They threw tank columns into the attack: American artillery, responding to Lieutenant Weiss and the other observers, broke them up. On August 9, German light tanks tried again. There were five attacks in the first hour that morning.
Weiss, who had not eaten or slept for 48 hours, was operating on adrenaline. He was 21 years old and filled with the wonderful feeling that he was making a difference in a crucial battle. The frantic activity-shooting up tanks, troops, guns, and vehicles-cut through his fatigue and masked it.
He was exhilarated. On the third day, still without rest, he sent this message: "As sleepy, tired and hungry as I am, I never felt so good as I feel right now. The observers were calling up to Ps and British Typhoons whenever they saw German tanks on the road.
Meanwhile, elements of the 4th, 9th, and 35th divisions hammered the German flanks. As on Hill , forward observers on high ground called in fire missions. He recalled, "The visibility from the top of this hill was excellent. What a change it was from the narrow confines of the hedgerows.
We saw some twenty miles distant, even the spires of MontSt. That day the leading elements of the American forces got into Alengon. Argentan was but 40 kilometres to the northwest. But the GIs were meeting stouter resistance because the Germans were awakening to their danger. Major Charles Cawthorn, an infantry battalion CO in Patton's army, recalled that this was not "a game of Allied hounds coursing the German hare," as the press was reporting it, but rather the hunt after "a wounded tiger into the bush; the tiger turning now and again to slash at its tormentors, each slash drawing blood.
ON HILL the position was precarious-no food, ammunition running low, and worst of all, the radio batteries were dying.
SHERMAN TANKS, US ARMY, NORTH-WESTERN EUROPE 1944 -1945
Sergeant Sasser retrieved discarded batteries and set them out on rocks. The sun restored some life. He switched batteries several times a day, restoring one set while using another. Even so, by the end of the fourth day, it was doubtful that he could keep them going. The GIs had long since cleaned out the chicken coops and rabbit pens around the half-dozen farms on the hill, along with the fruit and vegetable cellars, and were eating raw vegetables gathered from the gardens-when they got anything to eat.
Medical supplies had long since run out. After the fourth day Weiss reported, "We could see no end.
Osprey Campaign 149 - Falaise 1944: Death of an Army
But when? Lieutenant Ralph Kerley commanded E Company of the 2nd. After four days and nights of fighting, he was exhausted, discombobulated, but he kept at his work. At midmorning of the fifth day, studying the panorama below him through binoculars, he spotted a German mortar crew served by a half-dozen men. Kerley paused, thought about what relief it would bring if he could put that mortar out of action, thought about the danger he would be in if he was out of shells.
The sergeant gathered up his crew and brought the mm mortar assembly forward. Kerley watched the enemy mortar crew loafing, lying around, sunbathing, laughing. Occasionally one man would stroll back into the bushes and emerge with a shell, drop it down the tube, and shortly thereafter the shell would explode to the right or left, showering Kerley with rocks and dirt. The sergeant made his own survey with his binoculars. A private, his Ml slung across his back, clutched the sole remaining mortar shell for dear life against his belly.
Kerley and the sergeant talked quietly about wind, distance, elevation, made adjustments on the elevating screw. One last consultation, one minor adjustment. Satisfied, the sergeant turned to the rifleman with the mortar shell. The private stretched his hands out to the sergeant as if passing off a newborn baby. The sergeant took the shell, kissed it, dropped it in, ducked, and called out, "On the way. The shell exploded less than ten metres from the enemy mortar team. Two of the men leapt up and dashed away. Two others grabbed their mortar and ran.
Kerley started breathing again. It was a momentous, if inevitable, decision, because once the retreat began, there was no place to stop, turn, and defend short of the Siegfried Line at the German border. The line of the Seine could not be defended: there were too many bends in the river, too many potential crossing places to defend. Once the retreat began, the Battle of France had been won.
At on the fifth day of the siege of Hill , August 12, the 35th Division broke through the German lines and relieved the 2nd Battalion on Hill Of the GIs on the hill, some were dead including Sergeant Corn or wounded. Lieutenant Weiss had called in fire missions while the battalion had been surrounded. After eating and getting some sleep, he wrote his after action report on a typewriter, hunting and pecking.
It was ten pages long. Summing up what he had learned from his five-day ordeal, Weiss wrote: "Although quite often beat back and silenced, at the slightest carelessness in exposing ourselves thereafter, the enemy would strike back at us. He doesn't quit. His aggressiveness demands a twenty-four-hour observation.
Altogether the Germans lost more than 80 per cent of the tanks and vehicles they had thrown into the Mortain attack. Now their entire army in Normandy was threatened. The rush to get out, to get over the Seine and back to Germany, was on. By no means did all the Germans participate. Slackers, defeatists, realists seized their opportunity to surrender, convinced that becoming a POW in British or American hands was their best chance of survival. Captain John Colby remembered: "One dark night we pulled off the road.
One of our guys lay down to sleep beside an already sleeping German soldier who had become separated from his comrades and had lain down here for the night. When the German awoke the next morning he shook the American to arouse him and then surrendered to him. But by no means were all the Germans surrendering. The toughest units and the most fanatical Nazis-panzer and Waffen SS troops-were determined to get out so as to fight another day. On August 14 Eisenhower issued a rare order of the day he sent out only ten in the course of the war , exhorting the Allied soldiers: "If everyone does his job, we can make this week a momentous one in the history of this war-a brilliant and fruitful week for us, a fateful one for the ambitions of the Nazi tyrants.
The following day Eisenhower held a press conference. There was great excitement among the reporters, who had earlier been gloomy about the stalemate in Normandy and were now optimistic about what lay ahead, as evidenced by the first question Eisenhower received: "How many weeks to the end of the war? Eisenhower, disturbed by the excessive optimism, exploded. He said such thoughts were "crazy. He predicted that the end would come only when Hitler hanged himself, but warned that before he did, he would "fight to the bitter end," and most of his troops would fight with him.
The Canadians did not get to Falaise until August 17 and then failed to close the gap between Falaise and Argentan. The German army still had an escape route open. They were in a state of total fear day and night. They seldom slept. They dodged from bomb crater to bomb crater.
This is the end of the world. German army, corps, and division headquarters got out first and headed towards the Siegfried Line. Most junior officers felt like the enlisted men-it was every man for himself. It was terrible to see men screaming 'Mother! I have a wife and child at home. I'm bleeding to death! Lieutenant Walter Padberg explained: "Honestly said, you did not stop to consider whether you could help this person when you were running for your life. One thought only of oneself. All this time, bombs, rockets, mortars, and machine-gun fire came down on the Germans.
Along the roads and in the fields dead cows, horses, and. Maggots crawled through their wounds. Tanks drove over men in the way-dead or alive. Human and animal intestines made the roads slippery.
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Lieutenant George Wilson of the 4th Division was astonished to discover that the Wehrmacht was a horse-drawn army, but impressed by the equipment. He had been raised on a farm and "was amazed at such superb draughthorses and accoutrements. The leather was highly polished, and all the brass rivets and hardware shone brightly. The horses had been groomed, with tails bobbed, as though for a parade.
By August 18 the 1st Polish Armoured Division had moved south, almost to the point of linking up with the US 90th Division to close the gap. Germans escaped.
See a Problem?
One of them was Lieutenant Padberg. Once beyond the gap, Padberg ran into an SS colonel. We are going to launch a counterattack. The others shuffled into something like a line, Padberg said, "but unfortunately, I had to go behind a bush to relieve myself and missed joining the group behind the colonel. Even in the bloody chaos of Falaise, a humane spirit could come over the young men sc far from home. When he noticed that he was behind German lines, he slammed on the brakes. He had wounded men he was responsible for. But we told him, 'Back out of here and get going.
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