14 July, 2011

14 July, 1944


438th AAA AW BN
APO 403 % Postmaster, N.Y.
14 July, 1944

Hello darling –

Today is Bastille Day in France – once a big holiday – now just a memory. I got three sweet letters from you last nite when I got back from the hospital – dated June 25th, 28th, 29th. All in all and considering our location – we can’t kick about the mail.

Weather of 95 degrees seems inconceivable back here. I don’t know if it ever gets warm in France – but where we are – each day is like the last – and about 75 degrees – just right. But I do miss the swimming, dear – I hope when you get into the water a certain part of the time is for me.

Got a letter from Frank Morse yesterday. He had received mine – written when I first hit France. Although he is quite busy in his hospital – he’s aching to come over here. He should be getting his Majority soon. He should have had it long ago – because his job asks for it.

Still working at the hospital sweetheart and of course enjoying it and keeping my fingers crossed – hoping it will last. That’s all for now darling, except to let you know that everything you wish for – I wish for too, and just as hard. Love to the folks and

All my love, darling –


about Fighting in the Hedgerows

Soldiers of the U.S. 3rd Armored Division standing in front
of a hedgerow, holding a sign shaped like a German Cross
that says, "Soldiers surrender - you are surrounded."
14 July 1944, northwest of Saint-Lô.
This photo belongs to PhotosNormandie's Flickr Photostream

Here is an excerpt from the Center for Military History's review of the XIX Corps action in St. Lo from 7-19 July 1944. It is based upon based upon a first narrative by 2d Lt. David Garth, prepared in the field from military records and from notes and interviews recorded during the operation by members of the 2d Information and Historical Service Detachment.
What our units were experiencing in this fight, and what they were learning, is effectively summarized by an officer who went through it all and wrote from the standpoint of the front-line combat man:

There were just three ways that our infantry could get through the hedgerow country. They could walk down the road, which always makes the leading men feel practically naked (and they are). They could attempt to get through gaps in the corners of the hedgerows and crawl up along the row leading forward or rush through in a group and spread out in the field beyond. This was not a popular method. In the first place often there were no gaps just when yon wanted one most, and in the second place the Germans knew about them before we did and were usually prepared with machine-gun and machine-pistol reception committees. The third method was to rush a skirmish line over a hedgerow and then across the field. This could have been a fair method if there had been no hedgerows.

Usually we could not get through the hedge without hacking a way through. This of course took time, and a German machine gun can fire a lot of rounds in a very short time. Sometimes the hedges themselves were not thick. But it still took time for the infantryman to climb up the bank and scramble over, during which time he was a luscious target, and when he got over the Germans knew exactly where he was. All in all it was very discouraging to the men who had to go first. The farther to the rear one got the easier it all seemed.

Crossing an Orchard between Hedgerows
This photo belongs to Photosnormandie's Flickr Photostream

Of course the Germans did not defend every hedgerow, but no one knew without stepping out into the spotlight which ones he did defend.

It was difficult to gain fire superiority when it was most needed. In the first place machine guns were almost useless in the attack because about the only way they could be used was to fire from the hip. If you set them up before the advance started, they had no field of fire and could not shoot the enemy. If you carried them along until you met the enemy, still the only way to get them in position was to set them up on top of a hedgerow bank. That was not good because the German was in the next bank and got you before you set the gun down. Anyway, it had to be laid on the bank, no tripod, just a gun barrel lying unevenly on its stomach. On the other hand the Germans could dig their guns into the banks in advance, camouflage them, and be all set to cover the roads, trails, and other bottlenecks our men had to use.

The artillery was the major fire support weapon. But it suffered certain handicaps. In the first place it had to be adjusted from the front line by forward observers. These sometimes had difficulty knowing just where they were, and the trees frequently delayed adjustment because of the short vision. If you found the enemy in the next hedgerow he was frequently less than 100 yards from you, and that was too close for artillery fire, particularly since short rounds would probably burst in the trees over your men in your own hedgerow. If the enemy was two or more hedgerows ahead of you, that wasn't so good either, because the mere delay in getting to him through that last hedgerow just in front of him gave him time to rise up and smite you after the artillery lifted. The mortars were effective providing you knew just what to shoot at and where it was, but the infantryman still had the delay and exposure of getting through the last hedgerow.

A wounded American is carried over a Hedgerow by Medics
This photo belongs to PhotosNormandie's Flickr Photostream

The Germans, being on the defensive, profited by these minor items of the terrain. They could dig in, site their weapons to cover the approaches, and prepare tunnels and other covered exits for themselves. Then when our men appeared, laboriously working their way forward, the Germans could knock off the first one or two, cause the others to duck down behind the bank, and then call for his own mortar support. The German mortars were very, very efficient. By the time our men were ready to go after him, the German and his men and guns had obligingly retired to the next stop. If our men had rushed him instead of ducking down behind the bank, his machine gun or machine pistol would knock a number off. For our infantrymen, it was what you might call in baseball parlance, a fielder's choice. No man was very enthusiastic about it.

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