21 August, 2011

21 August, 1944

438th AAA AW BN
APO 403 % Postmaster, N.Y.
21 August, 1944         0930

Dearest darling Wilma –

Today is the first bad day in about 3 weeks and so we’re not complaining too much. Ordinarily when it’s like this, dear, you can hardly find a place that’s comfortable – let alone find a spot dry enough to write in. But that is another advantage of this little German car that I have. It has a nice canvas top – not too much unlike the one I had on the Buick. The jeep top is practically useless when it rains, but this one comes down on the sides and is very low anyway – so that it gives very good protection. So that’s where I am this morning, It’s comfortable here and quiet. Most of the fellows have gone back to sleep – but that’s one habit I’ve never cultivated.

Trying to describe the German car reminds me to tell you, darling, that I’m taking more snapshots now of various things I see. I believe I told you I was able to buy about 10 rolls of film to fit my camera. How I’ll get them developed – I haven’t the faintest idea, dear. There are no civilian facilities, and if I send them to the Signal corps – they retain the privilege of impounding for the duration any roll of film that has a picture in it containing military material. I now have 3 rolls taken and I’ll just hang on to them. I don’t think they’ll spoil.

Yesterday, as I wrote you, I went after a pair of combat shoes. I ended up by traveling about 130 miles – but I got them. They are not particularly good looking shoes – but darned serviceable and that’s what counts. I got very homesick when I noticed a Boston trademark stamped inside. Gosh – it was a beautiful Sunday and all I could think of was last summer. I don’t quite remember when you went back to school – I think it was about the 2nd of September – or thereabouts. I remember your telling me of your early return to school and how badly I felt immediately – because I thought I might not get to see you of a weekend – and when you think of it, darling, you must have been quite an attraction. It meant not going home to see my folks. I think they are the ones who deserve the credit, though, because much as they wanted to see me – they never said a word except that they were glad I knew a nice girl and was spending nice week-ends. And you certainly tore back and forth from Holyoke to Boston those first couple of months at school – it’s a wonder your folks didn’t object. It was all so wonderful – short as our courtship was, darling. I know that after we’re married – I’ll go on courting you – because I don’t want anyone pointing at us as we’re walking down the street and saying “Look at them – they had an awfully short courtship!” Of course, sweetheart, that is only one of the reasons why I’ll continue to court you.

Oh – I almost forgot to mention that McDermott fellow. If it’s the one I think it is – I know him fairly well – and his father – much better. The one I know comes from Salem, his dad is on the staff; Mac came to Edwards and was there only a short while before coming overseas – I think – with the 550th, but I’m not sure. I had run into him at Edwards – but never quite got to see him in England or France. I’ll keep a lookout for him now that I know he’s attached to the air force – or at least – his battalion.

Well – sweetheart – I’ll have to cut this short – it’s starting to get wet – even in here and I don’t want to get this messed up. I haven’t told you in so many words yet that I love you deeply – sweetheart, and miss you ever so much. This damned war seems interminable sometimes – but one fine day it will be over and I’ll be coming back to you to love you hard and long and forever. Just keep hanging on, darling.

So long for now, then – love to the folks – and

My everlasting love, sweetheart –


about Mont Ormel Ridge (Hill 262) - Part 2

Continuing from "Hill 262" on Wikipedia:
Further German attacks were launched during the morning both from inside the pocket along the Chambois–Vimoutiers road, and from the east. Raids from the direction of Coudehard managed to penetrate the Polish defenses and take captives. The final German effort came at around 1100 — SS remnants had infiltrated through the wooded hills to the rear of the 1st Armored Regiment's dressing station. This "suicidal" assault was defeated at point-blank range by the 9th Infantry Battalion with the 1st Armored Regiment's tanks using their anti-aircraft machine guns in support. The machine guns' tracer ammunition set fire to the grass, killing wounded men on the slope. As the final infantry assaults melted away, the German artillery and mortar fire targeting the hill subsided as well. The Canadian Grenadier Guards reached the ridge just over an hour later, having fought for more than five hours and taking out two Panthers, a Panzer IV, and two self-propelled guns along their route. By 1400, with the arrival of the first supply convoy, the position was relieved. The Falaise pocket was considered closed by the evening of 21 August, with around 50,000 Germans trapped inside.
The quite compelling account of Colonel Pierre Sévigny, then a Canadian artillery observation Captain attached to the 1st Polish Armored Division, appears in BBC's WWII People's War as translated by Jim Dillon from the book Dans la tourmente de la guerre, by M. l'abbé Marcel Launay. It is worth going to the BBC site to read the account from 19-21 August. The portion describing 21 August is copied here:

Canadian Colonel Pierre Sevigny

Nearly 4 in the morning, Monday, August the 21st

A shaft of moonlight lit the clearing in front of me: shadows! Immediately came a burst of machine-gun fire. A quarter of an hour later, a new attack! We were losing a lot of men, among them two of the Polish lieutenants: there was only one left!

Half an hour later it was dawn. I went to sleep literally standing up. Suddenly my signaller woke me and I started: “Captain, I can hear our tanks!”

There was no possible mistake! They must have been very close, perhaps 600 meters to the west, and I could clearly distinguish the two, green flares. Between them and us, however, on the side of the hill lay a small, thick wood and the Germans were still in it. What were we to do? If our friends bumped into resistance the likelihood was that they would pull back and look for another way. No hesitation! We had to attack and link up with our relief no matter what it cost.

Immediately I gathered the men. They all agreed: we had to take the enemy by surprise. Luckily his attention was diverted by the noise of the tanks! At the blast of a whistle we went forward! We advanced quickly despite branches, craters and the SS. Nothing could stop the wrath of the Poles. The Polish lieutenant was in front of me: I saw him fall, hit in the forehead by a bullet. At the same time, from behind a tree, a soldier aimed his carbine at me: I threw myself to one side as he fired: he missed and was instantly bayoneted. A bullet grazed my left shoulder: it was nothing, and we reached the bottom of the hill to see six Shermans firing on us! They finally recognized us and, with our strength increased, we were soon climbing back up that famous Hill 262.

When we reached the Command Post the Polish major greeted us, he was shaking with emotion and I became part of a scene of delirious joy. We laughed, we wept, we embraced each other. The soldiers told long stories in Polish to the Canadians who understood not a word but nevertheless burst into peals of laughter!

Our victory was total, but at a terrible price: only seventy Poles survived the slaughter unhurt: I was the only officer still able to stand!

The Poles now call that hill “Maczuga”, which means “The Mace”. And that is it exactly: the battle of “Maczuga” hill was the final, crushing blow which broke German power.
One balance-sheet of this fearful confrontation (and there are many different numbers suggested):

The Poles, who went into this fight with eighty-seven Sherman tanks against all the remaining weaponry of the German Seventh army surrounded on the plain of Tournai, Aubry, St-Lambert, lost 325 dead, 16 of whom were officers, 1,002 wounded and 114 missing. Eleven tanks were destroyed.

The Germans had about 2,000 killed, 5,000 taken prisoner, including a general, six colonels and 80 officers. They left on the battlefield 55 tanks, of which 14 were Panthers and 6 Tigers, 44 guns and 152 armored vehicles, 359 vehicles of all types were destroyed.

The World War II Database's Normandy Campaign, Phase 2 by C. Peter Chen reports:
Before the Allies closed the pocket, the death and destruction dealt against the German Army was horrifying even though a number of Panzer divisions were able to escape from the envelopment. "The battlefield at Falaise was unquestionably one of the greatest 'killing fields' of any of the war areas", Eisenhower noted in his memoirs.
Forty-eight hours after the closing of the gap I was conducted through it on foot, to encounter scenes that could be described only by Dante. It was literally possible to walk for hundreds of yards at a time, stepping on nothing but dead and decaying flesh.
The smell was all-pervading and overpowering. It was so strong, in fact, that pilots of light artillery observation aircraft flying over the area reported that the stench affected them ever hundreds of feet in the air.

Eight infantry divisions and two Panzer divisions were captured as German resistance in the pocket died down. The nightmarish narrow escape route was later named the "Corridor of Death" by the Germans who survived it.

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