By H. Glen Jenkins
Battle History of A/391
On August 7th., the Germans had a large force near Mortain and were developing a large scale counter attack. They were well equipped with large amounts of tanks and artillery, the shells from their artillery whizzed in or near our position for the next five days and nights. It was here that the Germans had their strongest air support of the whole French campaign. at least in our sector of the front. For five nights in succession large forces of enemy bombers and fighter-bombers came over us. Their flares lit up our position just like daytime and they strafed and bombed every night. Not our own battery position every night but close enough to make us run for our foxholes. The net result for the Luftwaffe was a lot of bombs and ammunition expended but not many casualties in our task force, and none in "A" Battery. They did cause us to lose a lot of sleep and frightened us no little when they would go into their dive and start strafing. The whistle of the bombs falling wasn't exactly a morale booster, either.
Our position was in a wheat field near a large farmhouse. There was cider in abundance in the barn and one of the Frenchmen there had a large stock of wooden shoes. Quite a few of the boys paid the necessary 75 francs and sent a pair home for a souvenir. Quite a few more made deep inroads 'into the supply of cider.
By the 9th the counter attack had developed into a counter offensive in an attempt to drive through to Avranches and to the sea, thus, cutting our force in Brittany off from the rest of the American Army. They, started from east of Mortain. Task Force One and Two of C.C.B. and the 119th Infantry of the 30th Infantry Division were in the path of the counter offensive. The battery was in direct support of these outfits and on the 9th we fired a total of 506 rounds at mortars, infantry, and anti-tank guns.
The battery was having it pretty hot at this time. but nothing compared to that endured by the R.O. and B.C. parties who were up forward with the infantry and tankers. They were near a hill that C.C.B. and the 30th Infantry Division christened "Purple Heart Hill". In this area mortar shells, artillery shells and small arms fire poured in steadily and it wasn't safe for a man to let his head be seen over a hedgerow. Casualties in men and equipment were heavy and a steady stream of replacements was being sent up all the time. Some weren't up long enough to tell about it when they were hit and had to be taken away.
August 10th was this sort of a day and fire was coming in thick and fast, falling around the R.O. track. One fell every close and a fragment went throught the flesh on the upper part of Tec. 5 John W. Manuel's arm. He didn't want to be taken away but the medics insisted and he was taken to the 45th Armd. Med. Bn. for treatment. All thorough this period the R.O. section - Lt. Patterson, S/Sgt. Marik, Pfc. Carroll M. Larson, Pfc. Michael McGrath, Pvt. Charles R. Corbin Jr., Cpl. Robert J. Heinauer - did a very good job and were constantly under heavy fire of all descriptions. Pfc. McGrath and Pvt. Corbin were machine gunners and their accurate and well placed fire helped break up several local penetrations of vehicles and infantry.
The B.C. party
was having it just as rough. They were with the 2nd Battalion of the 33rd
Armored Regiment and the shells fell like hail for days in and around their
position. On the morning of the 9th. it was particularly bad but Tec. 5 Leo
Zemitus wanted to see them fall and wouldn't take cover. A fragment passed
through his arm and he was taken to the 91st Evacuation Hospital.
Link to the 91st
Evacuation Hospital Web Site
Cpl. Thomas J. Lattinville Jr. was hit in the hand by another fragment but
was given firs-, aid and remained on duty. The rest of the B.C. party, Lt.
Sterne, Tec. 4 Wornell, Pvt. John P. Wood, and Pvt. Truman Fanning, were all up
in the thick of it and were given a Bronze Star at a later date for heroic
achievement against the enemy. At this point they saw one company of our tanks
so depleted by enemy fire that a Corporal was company commander, and out of a
total of 17 tanks the company had only two. No wonder it was called Purple Heart
A battalion of infantry of the 30th Infantry Division was cut off and surrounded
nearby but they kept on fighting. Medical supplies were loaded in artillery
shells and fired in to them.
On the 11 th. the battery gam' a formation of 18 C-47`s fly in at tree top
height. headed straight for enemy lines. We knew how heavy the enemy flak
barrage was and we hoped they would get through safely but really doubted if
they would. Every one watched them with his fingers crossed. They got close to
the enemy lines and the flak came up like hail but the enemy was really
unprepared and they sailed through it, dropped their supplies to the loth
Battalion, did a sharp turn and came back over us. doors open, static lines
hanging out, but still in perfect formation and still at tree top height. We
counted them and every man was glad when they were all there. This happened on
the 11th, with the same repeated on the 12th, and we sweated them out just as
much the second day as the first. They all made it the second day, too.
The back of the counter offensive had been broken by the 12th and we prepared
for march order. It had been a bloody battle and the fire of the artillery had
played a large part in breaking it up. We were relieved from supporting the 30th
Infantry Division and went back in with C.C.B. of the 3rd Armored Division. We
were supposed to drive all night and then have a combination rest and
maintenance period. We started out on Saturday evening August 12th about 15:00
hours and waited on the road until dark before moving on.
After the heavy air activity of the past five nights we were all a little
apprehensive about our all night drive. The Luftwaffe didn't show up however and
we drove south all night, then north-east until 6:30 the morning of the 13th. We
pulled in all tired out, and thought we were going to get a rest and a chance to
eat and clean up a bit. Our eyes were red from lad, of sleep and driving into
the wind all night and we all needed sleep pretty badly. We were not to be lucky
enough to get it however because when everyone had breakfast on the fire we
heard "March Order".
We were to support a new attack, which was starting that day. It was an
encircling movement that was to take us sleep into France and trap the German
7th. Army. So we pulled out after swallowing a few bites of a half cooked
breakfast. Our eyes were still red and burning and half shut from loss of sleep
as we headed straight into the rising sun. The first large town we came to in
daylight on that Sunday morning was Mayenne. Evidence of the battle fought there
was all around. The railway yards were pocked marked with bomb crater. Building
in the center of town were a mass of ruins and rubble.
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