In 1989 I answered an inquiry of Henri Rogester of Belgium about the hamlet of Parfondruy. I had never discussed about the battle of Parfondry because I did not think anyone would believe what. I saw there before I was hit by German tank on Dec. 23, 1944. It was the end of the war for me. I sent a report to Haynes Dugan the Third Armored Division Association Historian. After Haynes Dugan had read and sent a copy fit to our Archives at the University of Illinois, he asked me if the Battle of the Bulge was my biggest battle. I answered no and told him Mortain was.
He asked me to write about it and send it to him. I had never mention the battle to anyone because again who would believe I was in a field of coiled Sherman tanks and saw at least 12 of them get knocked out. I wrote about it because it was like yesterday in my mind.
Since then I have had time to ponder the Battle of Mortain and the Battle of the Bulge.
Most writers use clichés and think the BOB was about Bastogne or the Malmedy Masscre. The real fighting was stopping the LTC. Joshien Peiper's Kampfgruppe of the1st. SS Regiment of the 1st SS Division. Taskforce Lovelady of CCB had cut Kampfgruppe Peiper's column on the Northern shoulder and CCA retaking the Hotton area on Dec. 25th. and helping retake the Manhay area on December 27th 1944.
They were two gambles by Hitler that shorten the war. Hitler could not come to the realization that Germany would lose all the territories they had captured and loose Germany.
When Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin made a pact, Hitler was doomed as Russia was advancing on Poland. After the invasion by the Allies June 6, 1944 and establish the beachhead and making progress toward St. Lo, Rommel knew that it would be a matter of time when Germany would loose the war against the Russians and the Allies. , Field Marshals Von Rundstedt and Rommel could see the defeat of Hitler and Germany. His only chance had been to push the allies off the beach after they had made a landing. Russia was beginning to push the Germans back on their front and was at Rumania's border. Hitler called his two Field Marshals to Berlin for a talk.
Rommel was for making a peace agreement. Rundstedt suggested to Hitler that they needed to regroup and prepare a better defense, by withdrawing from Southern France to the Loire, but Hitler would not listen and after loosing several Divisions during the Allies capture of Cherbourg on June 19th. he replaced Von Rundstedt with Field Marshall Von Kluge.Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had been Hitler's best and favorite Field Marshal up to then, but on July 17th.Rommel was seriously wounded near Caen by an attack by our aircraft. He went back to Germany to recover.
Von Kluge and Rommel were in a group that wanted to kill Hitler and end the war.
Some of Hitler's top Generals and Field Marshals Rommel and von Kluge knew that Germany would be defeated, and to continue would be hopeless. They were in a large group that wanted to kill Hitler. A group of top Generals tried to kill Hitler with a bomb on July 20, 1944 but the attack failed.
After the Third Armored Division spearheaded the First Army's Cobra St. LO breakout after the July 26 bombing of the German front lines by the US Airforce. The Spearhead Division had found it tough going in the hedgerows of Normandy, and welcomed the open country, where they could drive with their Shermans leading the way, they Spearheaded the way to St. Lo. During the initial battle at Villers Fossard the going was tough. We had not been trained for hedgerow warfare. Sometimes it was devastating even after we learned to put prongs on the front of the tanks. We never knew what was on the other side for sure, and a few times we shot up another taskforce that we were attached to. It was hard to reach our objective and we were slow at it. The allies had broken out through Avranches and opened a hole for the Third Army to come through. The Third Army took over from the V111 Corps August 1 and begin to mop up Brittany. Avranches had become the center hub for most our supplies.
On August 1, General Omar Bradley, the First Army Commander was promoted to the 12th. Army Group. General Courtney Hodges became Commandeer of the 1st. Army.
The 3 AD with the 1st., 4th., and 9th. Infantry Division was placed in the V11 Corps, commanded by LT. General Joe Lawton Collins.
The 3AD teamed up with the 1st. Infantry Division to take Mortain rather easily after changing from the hedgerow to the open country. Then they took Brecy and crossed the See River, and established a beachhead which they turned over to the 3rd. Army. Mortain was turned over to the 30th. Infantry Division on August 6.
Hitler though it was a good time for a counter attack and told von Kludge of his idea and begin with a plan to launch a counter attack right away to retake Avranges and not only split the American First and Third Armies, but drive them into the sea. von Kludge and Hitler were on two different frames of mind. Von Kludge wanted to retire back to the Seine but Hitler decided to counter attack right away, and forced Kludge to come up with a plan to counter attack go through Mortain and to Avranches. But Hitler was going for all the marbles and not only take Avranches but push the allies back to the beach and into the sea.
This was wishful thinking as he could not put his armies together soon enough.
von Kluge did not get all his divisions in place before the counter attacked through Mortain. General Eberbach of the 5th Panzer Army was put in charge. He was supposed to have 5 Panzer and 2 Infantry Divisions and who knows what strength. On August 4, von Kluge began withdrawing troops from the British front and concentrating them east of Mortain Because of the advancing of the 3 AD and the 1st Infantry Division he started the counter attack on August 7.
On that date the 3 AD got a new Commander. Brigadier General Maurice Rose.
von Kluge 's purpose was to split the 1st. and 3rd. Armies but they attacked toward the center of the 1st Army when they started with Mortain. Mortain was held by the 30 Infantry Division. and took most of the brunt of the Germany force. They drove the 30 Division out of Mortain except for hill 317 where they were isolated until August 12. Even airdrops failed, but they hung on.They were aided by three Divisions that came to their rescue and prevented the Germans from breaking through Mortain with their assault forces. They were the 1st. and 4th. Infantry Divisions and the Third Armored Division. The German front in the attack reached for several miles.
The First Army had a lot of shifting to do to back up north and south of Mortain. Collin's VII Corps sent the 4th. Infantry Division NW of Le Messnil Tove.The 9th Division was near Clarence le Boussel. To the south of them the 2 AD was sent around Barenton. To the far south was the 1st Division The 35th Infantry Division was sent to St. Hilair– Martain road. The 3AD attacked in several places just north of Mortain. So it was not just one Division protecting Mortain, but a lot of the 1st Army. The 30 Division was able to reenter Mortain and relieve their men on hill 317 on August 12, after the Germans pulled back during the night of August 11.
Hitler's plan failed, as he did not have enough fire power to get past Mortain, and there was little or no air power for support.
This was the main cause of his troops getting caught in the closing of the Falaise Gap by the Third Armored Division and the British trapping some of the German 5th. And 7th. Army. He had taken too many divisions from the British sector which aloud them to move toward Felaise to meet the First Army at Argentan. German Losses were over a thousand tanks, and over 200 thousand troops killed or wounded.
von Kluge was certain that Hitler had found out his being in the coop to kill him, and took his life on August 18 near Falaise. Rommel still recovering from his wounds was forced to take poison on October 14th. Hitler had three Field Marshals ( Witzleben, Rommel and Kluge) put to death and dozens of other Generals were executed, expelled or dismissed. All told there were well over a hundred officers and civilians put to trial and executed.
Hitler had shot himself in the foot so to speak. He did not and would not take advice from his Field Marshals. He had no planning or advisory team like General Eisenhower, and acted only on his own.
He suffered many setbacks, such as Mortain, Falaise Gap, Mons, Entrance into Germany, Battle of the Bulge. And one of the lasts was when the First U. S. Army seized a bridge at Remagen on March 7th. The Third Armored Division after capturing Cologne, later raced just over a hundred miles in a single day to close the industrial area near Paderborn and liberate The Death Camp at Nordhausen while losing their leader Major General Maurice Rose.
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