26 July, 2011

26 July, 1944 (to her parents)


438th AAA AW BN
APO 403 % Postmaster, N.Y.
26 July, 1944
Dear Mother and Dad B –

I’m going to cheat a bit and write you a combined letter. It’s not because I couldn’t find something to write you individually – but because it takes less time – I have been busy of late.

Hearing from you and realizing that despite my having been away – I am close to you – makes me feel swell. These past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking so much about last summer and how I got to know Wilma and her folks. My thoughts end up so nicely when I realize that I am in fact engaged to Wilma – and I hope strongly that neither of you feels that it has been too difficult for her. If it has been a strain – I promise I’ll make it all up to her once I get back.

Things here – all in all – haven’t been too bad – and only occasionally not very pleasant. My work at the hospital – about which you know from Wilma – has been a wonderful time and also grand experience – which – considering I still belong to the 438th – has been a lucky break.

Well – that’s all for now. Keep well, don’t worry and I’ll be seeing you all one of these days. Love to Wilma, regards to the family.



about Continuing Operation Cobra

The dotted lined rectangle shows the
limit of the saturation bombing area
just south of the road from Périers to St. Lô
From the "World War II Database" comes this excerpt:
American artillery officer Donald Bennett recalled the morning of 25 Jul when the bombing by 1,500 aircraft started:
Across three hours nearly every combat-capable plane in western Europe came in, starting with medium B-25s and B-26s, followed by the lumbering B-17s and B-24s, while a thousand or more fighters circled around the edge of the action, pouncing on any target of opportunity. The ground rolled from the concussion, smacking through the soles of our feet, pillars of smoke and dirt rising thousands of feet into the air.
Unfortunately, more "friendly" bombings occurred on the 26th. A total of 600 tons of bombs was released. The excerpt continues:
The earlier waves of bombs were dropped on top of Germans as planned, but as the smoke and fire blurred boundaries, bombardiers of the final few waves had a tough time figuring out where the Germans were. As a result, some of the bombs landed on top of American units. US Army Lieutenant Charles Scheffel and his unit was among those bracketed by friendly fire.
On my left, a crashing boom slammed me against the side of my foxhole and bounced me off the quaking ground. Pain knifed into my ears and squeezed air out of my lungs. I sucked in dirt and choked trying to breathe. Spitting, I opened my mouth against the deafening roar. Mother of God, they were going to kill us all.... I prayed somebody somewhere was on the horn telling these guys what they were doing to us down here.
150 Americans were killed by accident by these bombs. The highest ranking fatality of this massive friendly fire incident was a three-star general of the US Army, "blown out of his slit trench some two miles behind where I had been holed up," recalled Scheffel.
Here is an interview with Lt. Ray Holmquist, 120th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, about his experience during the "friendly" bombing:
"I mean the bombers were flying over in formation, it was a site to behold. And we were up there watching this fantastic armada.  And my god I was looking up and here you could see a few bombs come out. I thought my god I have to take cover and I took cover in our battalion Headquarters. Our battalion headquarters had a heavy log, a fortification built into the hedgerow kind of wedged shaped and you get in through the side, just one small entry. It’s heavily timbered and its really good protection. And fortunately for me, that was the shelter I jumped into. It happened to be right next to me. Gees, I took the first cover I could get which was that shelter. I crawled in there and I think there were 7 others and I just laid on top of them. And by god, that shelter was hit with a 500-pound concussion bomb and the whole thing collapsed. The whole thing collapsed and there were big mounds of dirt on top of the timbers. The whole thing collapsed and somehow I was on top of the guy who I had been laying on top of. And they were buried and there was one other guy with me, just two of us. I could hear them, I think there was seven guys in the shelter, seven or nine, and they were buried. I could hear them down there and I tried to dig for them but it was an impossible task. I found my way out and got help. We got Captain Skier out, he was the S1, and he was still alive and he was put in an ambulance but all the rest of them were dead. As luck would have it or as bad luck would have it for Captain Skier the ambulance that he got into was bombed by our own troops and Captain Skier was killed. I mean that is a pretty hairy experience and there was so much confusion in our battalion I don’t know how we ever did take off. I got totally separated from the battalion. I was trapped there for quite awhile and digging for these guys and by the time I got out of there the battalion commander and all of his staff were gone. I was just kind of rambling, roaming around there, didn’t know really where I was or anyone else was.

Where was I to go? There wasn’t anything to do about anything. (Laughing) It was total chaos like you can’t believe. There is all kinds of dead and many wounded we had to take care of. You have to take care of the wounded and the dead. So I was really on my own. The battalion staff had disappeared and I didn’t know where they were. And here there was big take off and we were supposed to go 8 miles down the road to this city. Here I was wandering around in this hedgerow country basically all alone. Shit all I know is that our mission was to go down this road; I didn’t even know where the road was. I was just roaming around there all the rest of that day. I didn’t go out at night I took cover. I just search the next day. I knew the direction of the battle and I followed the direction of the battle and it was destruction like you couldn’t believe. It was utter, utter destruction. There was nothing that lived, burning tanks and burning vehicles, dead animals, dead Germans, dead Americans. I was just alone. I mean there were troops all over but I didn’t know where my battalion was. There were other American troops all over the place but they were all part of an organization and they didn’t care about me. There were vehicles and troops all over but I didn’t know where is my battalion."
Immediately after the bombings, the American 4th, 9th, and 30th Infantry Divisions charged into German lines even as smaller bombers and fighters continued to attack German positions further beyond the line. "The few Germans who were encountered were out of their heads with shock," recalled Bennett as his M-7 artillery pieces went in. Indeed, the elite Panzer Lehr Division lost much effectiveness with some of their tanks overturned and two thirds of personnel becoming casualties of the bombing. The advancing infantry divisions gained 12,000 yards on 25 and 26 July, supplying the mobile breakthrough to occur on 27 July.

Reconnaissance for 2nd Armored Division in Canisy
(5.5 miles from St. Lô) after American artillery
bombardment on 26 July 1944

(This photo belongs to PhotosNormadie's Flickr Photostream)
German Panzer Lehr Panther XXX destroyed by
Operation "Cobra" bombs on 25 July 1944
Another Panzer Lehr Panther III destroyed and
enemy capturedduring Operation "Cobra"
on 26 July 1944

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