On August 8, 1944 I was a scout in A, 391st Armored Artillery Battalion and our RO half-track was attached to Task Force Hogan of CCB, which included a Company of Infantry from the 119 Regiment of the 30th. Infantry Division on.
In 1990 I wrote to Assist Mayor Monsieur Rene Langlois in Mortain and sent a copy of my Mortain 100 yards. I wanted to know if he knew of the battlefield and the location of it. He answered that there was no record of the battle I wrote of and it was unknown to anyone in Mortain. I answered and sent more documents but to no avail. Later I conferred with Mark Readon who was researching Mortain for a new book called Victory at Mortain. He acknowledged my description of the battle and it was in line with the data he had collected. He established the crossroads I was referring to as RJ 178.
In early 1998 I again wrote to Monsieur Rene Langlois and told him I would be in Mortain on the 10 of June to search for the forgotton battlefield, with my friend Eddy Monfort of Malempre, Belgium. He arranged for two hotel rooms for two nights and lunch with the Mayor, and offered to be my guide for the research of the battlefield. We arrived on the 10th, had dinner and met Monsieur Rene Langlois for breakfast. We started out in search of my battlefield and RJ 178. We drove around for an hour and found no sign of a sunken dirt road. Finally I asked to start over again and retrace the steps though la Grange and on to the small road I was looking for. I was told the neighborhood had grown and that new houses had replaced the fields and there was no battles reported there. We came to a turn with a cross and sped up a small hardtop road to a road junction RJ 172. Is this it "asked Monsieur Langlois"? I told him I didn't know, as I never got to see the crossroads. Eddy Monford and Monsieur Langlois were jabbering away in French as Monsieur Langlois could not speak English.
I got out and walked back down the road alone. I had gone 300 yards when I saw a small turn in. Then I saw a row of trees that used to be hedges . I knew I had spend four days there in a hole under our half-track. It was a landmark I recognized and across the field was where LTC. Hogan had his HQ set up under a half-track. The field up from there toward the crossroads was the field I was in when the 12 Shermans were knocked out. The dirt road was now hardtoped. I rushed back up the hill to tell my comrades that this was the place. Monsieur Langlois insisted there was no report of a battle here. We turned left and went down the road to a farmhouse. The farmer told us there were two burned out spots from tanks that were across the sunkened road from the field I was talking about. There was a small farmhouse near the corner and we went through their yard and the man of the house came with us and pointed out the large spots; still there after fifty years. Then his wife met us in the yard and told us when she was a little girl; there were five American tanks in the field across the road from her house. This was the field I was in during the raging battle. All of the tanks were taken away later. The crossroads turned out to be RJ 172. There was no such crossroads junction as 172. I had proved my battlefield to Monsieur Langlois and he agreed as we went to lunch with the Mayor and then he took me to meet Dr. Giles Buisson who wrote the book called "MORTAIN 44". He seemed overjoyed for me and gave me and autographed copy of his book. He had been a Town Council Member in 1944 and Mayer 1968-83
Next morning I drove through Le Newberg passed the Abby St Clair and turned left up this small road by the cross.
I remember going up this road on Aug. 9, 1944. We went through the 12th Regt of the 4th. ID who could not advance. They advised us to stay low and fire on both sides. I was firing a mounted 30 Cal machine on one side and Michael Trigger McGraph was firing another on the other side.
In all the seriousness of the war something funny happens. As we reached the top of the hill we relaxed from all the firing. Trigger stood up as the half-track backed up and he slipped with his finger caught in the trigger ring. The gun was firing all around in a circle. I caught him and put him in balance so he could get his finger out. He then turned to me and told me he thought he saw some Germans over there
I continued up the hill to RJ 172 took some Photos and went on my way to the Brittany Cemetery to visit my old buddy, Gene Louis Pareanteau and headed toward Paris, France.
Several months later after answering some written questions my article was published in the Mortain Quaterly in French. Below is a copy of the article in English and French.
100 YARDS TO MORTAIN 1944
By Charles R. Corbin
391 Field Artillery Btn.
Third Armored Division
I was in A Battery 391st. RO (recon and forward observer) section which had a jeep and half-track and seven to nine men. We like everyone else were learning by our mistakes and pride was overcoming fear. We were in the first week of August and our big assignment was helping a company of infantrymen from the 4th. Infantry division take an objectives. Lt. Patterson, Sgt. Marik and I packed our jeep radio and went on foot with them. We provided artillery and reached our objective after getting pinned down in a barn or horse stable. Then we got a call to report back to go with the 1 St. Infantry Division. When we arrived back we 1earned, our jeep driver Robert Horton and Jean Parenteau had been killed by an artillery shell and put our jeep out of action.
By August. 8th. We were" with CCB again and received orders to join TaskForce Hogan and the 119th. Infantry Regt. of the 30th division on August 9th. to halt a counter attack between Abbaye-Blanche and Mortain. Our objective was RJ 272.WE passed through Le Neufbourgar in the early afternoon, made a left turn off the main road and went up the sunken road and uphill and passed through the 12th. Infantry Regiment of the 4th. Division. We hit heavy resistance about 300 yards from our objective and our two lead tanks got hit by enemy fire about 100 yard from RJ 272 and burned. TF Hogan made plans to turn the rest of the attacking column in a field left of the road and and attack after a tank with sharp rails or spikes that had been welded on the front, had made a hole through the tall hedgerow so the lead tank could go through and attack the crossroads. Lt. Patterson told our driver John Manual to follow the first after the tank with the rails made a hole. We tried to do this twice as each lead tank was hit by enemy anti tank fire. Lt. Cooper of I Co. pulled up beside us in his tank and while waiting for another hole to be made he joking said "It would be nice to get a million dollar wound and get the hell out of here His tank passed by us and was hit trying to pass though the hedge-row. I could feel the heat of the next shell passing close to my head as we backed up I saw two tankers get out of the tank and pull Lt. Cooper out and assist him past us He didn't seem to be seriously wounded. I waved to him.
The other tanks had coiled in the field and the German tank that had been waiting for us cut loose with direct fire, also mortal and artillery and machine guns pounded our tanks and infantry. The tank next to us went up in flames and a tanker was having trouble getting out, Another tanker Jumped on the tank and tried to help but was hit by a bullet. Then a shell beheaded the tanker. At this point we bailed out of the half-track. I was between two infantry men and a shell landed behind us and serious wounded the two of them allthough I thought they were both dead. The rest of the 30 th. Infantry retreated. All or most of our tanks had been hit and the men that could get out retreated back to the next hedgerow. A piece of shrapnel hit our driver in the arm and l helped him back. All of our section was accounted for except Lt. Patterson who was kneeling over the two infantry near our half-track. I waved for him to come back but he waved for me to come to him.
He had administered first aid to them and was giving them morphine shots. We loaded and strapped one on the left fender and I held the other on the right fender as he drove the half track to safety. It was one hell of a battle witnessed by this nineteen year old kid as we came out on the loosing end with many dead and wounded and it was reported 15 of 17 tanks knocked out with a corporal left as the highest rank in the Company.We moved our half-track in the field to the right of the small lane, crawled under and started digging but it was rocky and hard digging. A message come in an our radio the morning of the 10th. for Col, Hogan who had set up in the field opposite us and I started out when the shells were coming in again. I hit the ground and noticed Leo Zemitus walking around, He told me if you are going to got hit it has your name on it. He was with our A Btry B.C. liason tract with Hogan. I made it to Col Hogan's half-track as another barrage came in. Hogan and crew had soft ground or they must have dug a hole and pulled the half-track over it, and it was deep as they were all in the hole. I gave the message to Col. Hogan and was half way back when I saw a medic with Zemitus on the ground with a piece of shrapnel had passed through his arm. The night before the Germans had crept in Hogan's field and tried to throw hand grenades under the vehicles but were shot.
In the morning of August 10th. an attack was made down the small road toward RJ 272 by the 119th. 30th. Infantry with Lt. Patterson and Sgt Marik but it failed and very few returned. I saw a medic loading a man with his chin cut off and another with his arm hanging in his sleeve, also a Sgt. who not wounded was in terrible shape. Patterson and Marik were 0 K.
On the morning of the 11th. other elements of CCB had broken through to us and another attack was made to the right of our half-track. The tank "Hot Hedy" an M5 light tank from Headquaters 391 st. forward observer section, with Bill Fullarton, Summers, Sergeant Ray Pierce and 1st. Lt. John Forston to give artillery support for another Company of the119th.,30th. Infantry Division. The Germans were waiting for them as they reached the next hedgerow and let loose with artillery and machine gun fire. I was in the hole under our half-track as a 2nd. Lt. knelt and waved his men forward and as they passed our half-track they were mowed down. The men retreated and the dead and wounded were brought in by the medics.
An all out attack was planned for the next morning. Lt.Patterson and Sgt. Marik crawled down our hedgerow and crossed over and picked out some targets, on the crossroads for the next morning. Patterson saw a German run into a house and he blew it up with with arti1lery. Our tanks were getting ready to lead us in the morning attack. That night while on guard duty, something caused me to freeze in my tracks and I could not move. It was an unfamiliar sound that turned out to be a buzz bomb or rocket. It exploded after the motor stopped about a mile away.
That evening and night the Germans pulled out and we were able to go 100 yards and reach our objective, the RJ 272. We turned around and headed back to CCB Headquarters. Then we received orders to help close the Felaise Gap. It was good to be on the road again after spending three days and nights in the same hole under the half-track. I was thinking of Lt. Cooper and beginning to wish I was him.
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