18 July, 2011

18 July, 1944

V-MAIL


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

Dearest darling –

Got your letter of 2 July yesterday and one from your mother of 3 July. Mother’s was very sweet – as always. Yours had the post-card showing a couple of “surgeons” and was very appropriate – considering what I’ve been doing for the past week. They’re still going strong at the hospital – although they should be closing down for a rest any day now. They usually work for about 2 weeks or so – not for several days and start all over again. So far we’re still comparatively near to them and I just hope it stays that way. As far as the hospital is concerned – I’ve been told to act as if I were part of it and to go ahead and do anything I want – which is darn white of them. The fellow in charge of the O.R. is a Greek and I think he must think I’m one too – because he’s been swell to me.


Sweetheart – you must not think that anything I write concerning my love for you is “guarded’ – as you wrote in the letter I received yesterday. I don’t know exactly what you mean. I have nothing to guard or be wary of. I too, write as I feel and I’ve thought I revealed myself completely to you. If not – I’ve meant to. I can only say that I love you deeply, am proud you are my fiancée and I can hardly wait to marry you! Is that guarded?? Love to all dear and
All my love to you for always
Greg


* TIDBIT *

about Entering Saint-Lô

The “Hun Chaser” tank rumbles through the debris of St-Lô
while an American soldier looks for snipers with field glasses and
poised pistol before blockbusters have cleared the streets of rubble.

By 15 June, the 9th had cleaned out the German strongpoints east of the Taute and gained the crossroads at les Champs-de-Losque. But just south of that village, the 9th struck the enemy's new MLR (Main Line of Resistance), defending the higher ground rising toward the Périers-St-Lô highway. For the next two days of very severe effort, net gains were negligible. Finally, on 17-18 July, the 39th Infantry broke through; during these two days the 9th Division pushed to within a few hundred yards of the St-Lô highway, and crossed it with patrols. The 9th and the 30th together had gained the ground which First Army proposed to use for its jump-off in the breakthrough operation, Cobra.

29th Infantry Division soldiers lay low along Route D191 heading
toward St-Lô, while a map or message is read (lower left corner).

A stretch of D191 today - perhaps the same location.
By the morning of 18 July, unrelenting pressure on the enemy had loosened up the whole front east of the Vire River. The 35th Division reported that the enemy had pulled out along its entire sector, leaving a considerable amount of materiel. Early in the day, General Corlett told General Gerhardt to take St-Lô and secure it. He wanted to find out "what was in there" before anything further was launched. The attack was to be made by Task Force C, especially organized for speed and headed by General Cota. Consisting of reconnaissance, tank, tank destroyer, and engineer elements, the task force was ordered to get infantry support from the nearest available infantry unit just prior to the entrance into the city.

The initial objective within St-Lô, chosen after previous aerial reconnaissance, was a square near the cemetery that had been relatively untouched by bombing. The plan was to clear and occupy this square for use as a base of operations within the town. The 29th Reconnaissance Troop entered St-Lô first and pushed through the rubble-choked streets, using any possible course or route. When it became impossible to proceed farther in vehicles, the men dismounted and deployed like infantry, moving rapidly to seize and organize three strongpoints, previously determined and assigned. The tanks, TD's, and infantry followed the reconnaissance troop into town. A CP (Command Post) was set up at the three-way junction of the main highways. This soon became an exceedingly hot place as, in addition to the artillery fire coming from the high ground to the south of town, an 88-mm gun was firing down the Bayeux road.

Men of Task Force C go down a winding street not yet too damaged
(until German artillery opens up) on 18 July 1944

Holes have been blown in walls which were still intact in the
earlier photograph (under the word "Restau---" on wall at left).
Bodies of American soldiers lie near the immobilized tank destroyer.
Shell cases fired by a tank destroyer litter the sidewalk.

As the infantry entered, men in groups of four and five were ticked off to accompany a tank or a TD (tank destroyer)and sent to posts commanding other key points throughout the town. There were 17 of these, including bridges, and they were swiftly outposted. Some of the important areas in the town, such as those originally seized by the 29th Reconnaissance Troop, were reinforced to constitute formidable strongpoints, composed of an armored car, two tanks, two TDs, and an antitank gun. Other outposts were held by small groups of infantrymen armed with bazookas and antitank grenades.

By 1900 after a series of skirmishes by the forces which were fanning through the city, St-Lô was firmly secured. It seemed evident that the Germans had been surprised by the speed and boldness of the task force maneuver. Swiftness in getting the column past the important road junction and dispersed before the enemy artillery could bring full force to bear on it was a prime factor in the speedy occupation. General Gerhardt hastened to inform General Corlett of the victory: "I have the honor to announce to the Corps Commander that Task Force C of the 29th Division secured the city of St-Lô after 43 days of continual combat from the beaches to St-Lô."

Major Thomas D. Howie, a battalion commander within the 29th Inf
Div, told his men on 17 July, "I'll see you in Saint-Lô!" He was
killed moments later leading his battalion through the outskirts of
St. Lô. On 18 July, to honor him, his men fulfilled his promise,
and laid him under a flag on the steps of the Holy Cross Church.


Holy Cross (St. Croix) Church then and now:

Although the city was captured, Task Force C continued to receive severe enemy fire. The infantry not posted at strongpoints had worked its way through the battered streets to clear the bombed remnants of the town from east to west of any snipers or resistance pockets, few of which were encountered. But the enemy continued to pour mortar and artillery fire throughout St-Lô, searching out points here and there as though moving methodically over a checkerboard. A mortar shell caused the death of several men with whom Colonel Ednie (now commanding the 115th Infantry) was conferring at the CP, although the colonel himself escaped injury. At 1930 General Cota was wounded by shell fragments and had to be evacuated. Capt. Sydney A. Vincent, Jr., of Company B, 803d Tank Destroyer Battalion, left his vehicle to coordinate the activities of his tank destroyers and was killed. A forward observer of the 29th Division Artillery reconnoitered one of the spires in the church of Notre-Dame as an observation post. He decided upon its use and went to gather his crew. By the time he had returned, the enemy had shot both spires off the church.

Remains of Notre Dame Church in July of 1944
Notre Dame Church as it was somewhat re-built.

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