20 June, 2011

20 June, 1944


438th AAA AW BN
APO 403 % Postmaster, N.Y.
20 June, 1944

Dearest darling Wilma –

In the midst of war and all that goes with it – I had a pleasant dream last night. It was all about you and me and our becoming engaged. I got up feeling swell – and here I am. I do get such a lift, sweetheart, every time I stop to realize that I have a fiancée and that it is you. The war is really easy to take knowing that and I can’t tell you it often enough. You will have to excuse the continued use of V-mail, darling. Right now it is the only thing available and the easiest to dispatch.

Things are going along well here. Last evening we stopped near a farm house and I went over and chatted (what an overstatement!) with the farmer and his wife. I ended up by drinking 2 glasses of Normandy champagne, and left with 2 fresh eggs and a head of lettuce. I’ve gotten hold of a French dictionary and I’m picking things up rapidly.

As for news, Sweetheart, it’s good – as your radio is telling you. Things are still easy for me and I’m going to keep telling you not to worry – so many times that you’ll have to believe me, dear. I love you, Wilma, darling and aim to return to marry you – and therefore I’m taking good care of myself for you. Love to the folks and

All my love is yours,


about The VII Corps and the Cherbourg Campaign - Part 3

Cherbourg was defended by General Karl von Schlieben, the commander of one of the two German battle groups that were engaged in the Cotentin campaign. Hitler's interference during the Cotentin campaign meant that von Schlieben was forced to defend a line that ran across the entire peninsula, from St. Vaast de la Hogue in the east to Vauville in the west, instead of being able to concentrate his troops in the strong semi-circle of defenses around Cherbourg. He had also been denied permission to make an orderly withdrawal into the defenses when it became clear that the Americans were about to reach the west coast of the peninsula, so those troops that did reach Cherbourg had to be thrown into the defenses as they arrived. Von Schlieben calculated that he had 21,000 men to defend Cherbourg, made up from the remains of four divisions, naval gunners, flak gunners and workers from the Todt organization. He reported that he was short of officers, had many low grade troops and one fifth of his men were Russians and Poles. Hitler's refusal to allow an orderly retreat meant that the stockpiles of mortar and artillery ammunition stored in the fortress had been used up before the battle began.

The fortifications of Cherbourg were still formidable. The city was surrounded by a ring of concrete fortifications built onto three ridges that commanded every line of approach. In the city itself the Arsenal was a powerful fortress, and the navy had built forts to defend the harbor. If von Schlieben had been allowed to retreat in good order then these fortifications might have held the Americans up for some time.

The following 3 photos show some of the harbor defenses as they appear today.

The American forces in the Cotentin, commanded by General 'Lightning Joe' Collins, had three divisions available for the attack on Cherbourg – the 4th, 9th and 79th. It was the 9th Division that had reached the west coast of the Cotentin on 18 June. On the following day the 4th Division, under Major General Raymond O. Barton, had borne the brunt of the German resistance but had broken through the main German defenses on the east coast. The Germans had held their position for one week in the sector of Montebourg. In the north, they had reorganized a temporary defense on the line between Valognes and Quettehou. From 18 to 19 June, all German positions in the east of the Saire valley were evacuated including the Luftwaffe signal station of Teurtheville-Bocage, and the batteries of Gatteville and La Pernelle, whose heavy guns were put out of order. All German forces regrouped in the area of the Cherbourg fortress.

Since the jump-off on 19 June the three divisions had come into a new type of terrain. In advancing up the peninsula they had gradually left the low-lying south Cotentin and were now in the hilly north. In the eastern half of the peninsula a hilly region first became apparent at Montebourg and gradually led to higher ground near Cherbourg. Between Valognes and the port were several large wooded areas. The approach along the western half of the peninsula was even less favorable, as the region west of the Douve was frequently broken by ridges and stream valleys. Much of the country was of the "bocage" type, with fairly steep hills and steep-sided valleys; toward the northwest it became rugged, with open relief and rocky cliffs. Immediately backing the city of Cherbourg was a collar of steeply rising ground with frequent outcroppings of bare rock. This ground rose abruptly from the city and then fell back to form a high rolling plateau, broken by the deep valleys of the Divette, the Trotebec, and their tributaries.

It was country ideal for the defense of Cherbourg and the enemy had taken full advantage of it. On a rough semicircle, from four to six miles out from the port, the Germans had constructed a belt of fortifications varying in depth and type. Always on commanding ground, these fortifications covered all approaches. Defensive lines were often tied in with streams which served as obstacles to tanks and self-propelled weapons. Where natural barriers did not form a continuous obstacle they were supplemented by ditches, and roads were blocked with steel gates or bars. The defenses were of various types. In some areas there were permanent structures of concrete, with machine-gun turrets and mortars, underground personnel shelters, and ammunition storage rooms. In other places the fortifications consisted mainly of trenches and ditches, sometimes enclosing "Crossbow" (rocket bomb) sites, from which the Germans could fight delaying actions. Hedges were frequently cut to permit a better field of fire, and wire enclosed the fortified area. Within this ring of defensive works were many antiaircraft positions, and as the Americans approached the Cherbourg defenses the enemy made full use of these weapons for ground fire.
German Artillery near Cherbourg
German Observation Point near Cherbourg
Most German positions were clearly and accurately shown on the large-scale defense overprints issued to all commanders, but exact information on the strength of the enemy in these positions was lacking. Prisoners continually reported that their units had suffered complete disorganization. On the evening of 20 June, General Collins ordered all units to probe the enemy's main line of resistance during the night.

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