Friday, July 31, 2020

Breakout in the West

National Archives

"Get up there Gammell, we're on the move again."

When my corporal spoke, I listened. He seemed like a good man, all the guys in my squad seemed like good men. Yes, I was a little nervous around the one they called "Cajun," he was pretty fierce, though in camp he was a lot of fun. Good sense of humor.

I climbed up on the tank, from there I could see that Sgt Brandt's section was already on the back of the lead tank, whose commander's name was Kaminski, I think. I was meeting a lot of new people and it was hard to keep track of who was who.

Sgt Brandt was still on the side of the road, talking with our lieutenant. I was a little surprised when another officer, joined them. He looked like a flyboy, leather jacket and all. I wonder if he had anything to do with the new tank Kaminski had been issued, it had an extra antenna, one more than the tank I am on.

"Hey kid, give me a hand up will ya?" I looked down and there was Duck, our B.A.R. man, my boss so to speak. I helped him up.

"Sgt Brandt, this is Captain Wilson, he's a P-47 pilot and he'll be in the tank with Kaminski. His job is to call in air whenever we spot something, shall we say, concerning. General Bradley put out the word that every column was going to have its own air support."

Sgt Brandt looked at the skinny, blond Army Air Force captain, I wonder if he even shaves yet? Can't be more that a teenager. "Pleased to meet ya captain, we're your infantry support."

Sgt Kaminski bellowed down, "F**k that Bill, you're my infantry support. He's my air support. So Lieutenant are we gonna sit here yapping all day, or are we moving out?"

2Lt Paddock chuckled and said, "Okay, okay Kaminski, I guess it's your show. Bill, the rest of the platoon will be traveling about 500 yards behind, if you need us, have Cat get on the radio and call us. All right?"

"Got it L.T., enjoy the ride!"

"Fuzz, kill us some Krauts and the beer's on me!"

The Army Air Force kid saluted then disappeared into the turret. Kaminski stood up again and bellowed, "Move out!"

In the long, dust covered column of prisoners, paratroopers Unterfeldwebel Günther Hahn, Flieger Lorenz Schuster, and Flieger Heinrich Pfeiffer were all that remained of Hahn's ten man squad. They had been separated outside Marigny during the horrendous bombing and subsequent artillery bombardment. The others might be alive, they might be dead, he had no idea. When it had all ended, he and Lorenz were frantically digging Heinrich out of a collapsed slit trench.

Heinrich had still been alive, but was unconscious. When an Ami patrol had come across them, Hahn figured they were all dead. He was stunned when a medic from the American 30th Infantry Division had treated Heinrich, pronounced him fit, then let the other Americans make them captive. They hadn't had a chance, their weapons were gone, and truth be told, the Amis had bombed, strafed, and shelled all the fight out of these men. They were willing captives.

They all had some hope of surviving the war now. Hahn felt slightly ashamed, but the news of the last few weeks had been all bad, their own generals had conspired to kill the Führer, the rest of the Wehrmacht¹ spit on the Luftwaffe² and openly disparaged Reichsmarschall Goering. To be honest, Hahn felt betrayed by his own service, he hadn't seen a Luftwaffe aircraft overhead since before the invasion. Where the Hell were they?

Situation in Normandy, 31 July 1944
Red circle shows the position of the US 1st Inf Div, the yellow circle that of the British 15th (Scottish) Div
From the War Diary of the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers:
Caumont. 30 Jul
Operation BLUECOAT started, H Hour 0655 hrs.
44(L) Inf Bde formed the firm base through which 15(S) Div 46 and 227 Bdes advanced. 30 Corps and 8 Corps carried out the attack. 15(S) Div supported by Gds Tk Bde and 11 Armd Div attacking on 8 Corps front. 43 Div supported by tks attacking on 30 Corps front. 8 Corps made good progress from the start and got well fwd to the line of 2nd Phase by approx 1330 hrs, but 43 Div on 30 Corps front made little progress from the start line with the result that the flank of 227 Bde on left of 15(S) Div was exposed. 6 R.S.F. were lent to 227 Bde to protect left flank. The Bn moved over from posn on firm base west of CAUMONT to take up posn south west of LALONDE 7157 to facing EAST to cover approaches from the east. The Bn was in posn by 2000 hrs and spent the night in this posn.
Lalonde. 31 Jul
The Bn spent a quiet period and was not attacked from the open flank to its front. 

"Sgt Wallace, do you have a moment?"

Sgt Billy Wallace looked up from his tea and answered, "Certainly Sir, coming."

"No rush sergeant, do finish your tea."

"Yes sir, thank you sir." Of course Wallace didn't finish his tea but dumped his cup on the ground, where his platoon commander, Lieutenant Kenneth Orton, wouldn't see it. It was Wallace's contention, and experience, that officers tended to get pissy when kept waiting by the lower orders, as he'd heard his own called from time to time, particularly by the English. As Orton was a fellow Scot, he wasn't all that bad.

"Sir!" While addressing the lieutenant properly, he didn't come to attention or salute, as their battalion commander had explained to all the new officers, that was a good way to get killed. If a man saluted you near the lines, he probably didn't care much for you!

"Yes, sergeant, seems your squad is a bit low on men, and I am missing a platoon sergeant. I know you haven't held the rank long, but the chaps speak highly of you, as does Major Stansfield. So, how d'ye feel about being the platoon sergeant for 11 Platoon, B Company, the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers?"

Wallace didn't hesitate, "I would like that very much, Sir!"

"Well then, d'ye think your man, what's his name, Rutherford I believe..."

"Yes sir, Lance Corporal Rutherford."

"Yes, well do tell him he has the squad now, oh, and give him these." The lieutenant handed Sgt Wallace a set of corporal's insignia. Heh, Gavin may not like this, he can't be just one of the lads anymore.

"Something funny, Sergeant?"

"No sir, not at all sir, just a bit of gas from breakfast I think, the bangers were not well cooked."

"Quite, carry on Sergeant."


"Heh, off to give Rutherford the bad news, and grab my kit," Sgt Wallace muttered, "I'm moving to platoon headquarters! I hope the food is better!"

¹ The Wehrmacht was the German Armed Forces, the Army (Heer), the Navy (Kriegsmarine), and the Air Force (Luftwaffe). 
² The German parachute arm belonged to the Air Force, not the Army.


  1. Almost time for the Third Army? Lots of foot sloggers on that German left flank......what German armor is left, how much gas?

    1. Third Army is ashore and moving. Not much German armor is left in front of the Americans. Most German divisions at this time are really reduced to battle groups of a couple hundred men and maybe a few tanks. Things are about to break wide open.

  2. The lead tank is probably not the best place to put the FAC, maybe Third or Fourth. The lead tank in the story so far has discovered the enemy by blowing up, which I think is accurate. Reconnaissance by fire if you will. There’s little to be gained for him to be there and a lot to be lost. Unless that’s the point your trying to make, of course.

    1. Ah, but you anticipate the future. In this episode they haven't actually started moving, that's for tomorrow. No, the FAC will not be in the lead tank.

    2. The 'by the book' and 'traditional' place for the platoon leader's tank is... third. That way the platoon leader can actually react after the first tank blows up. No. Seriously.

      One knows one is in an antitank trap when the first tank blows up.

      One knows one is in a good antitank trap when the first and the last blow up, blocking the road.

      One (if a platoon leader of tanks) will never know when one is in a great antitank trap because they'll shoot the tank with the extra aerials or the third tank because that's where the platoon leader is. And then shoot the first and last, and work on the middle for a while, and then mysteriously disappear before air support or other ground units can respond.

      Fighting the Russians, the Germans first targeted the most threatening tank, then the one with the biggest turret (as it had all the radios) then worked over the lesser targets. Generally. That was kind of an unwritten rule. Kind of. If they had time to be picky about targets, that is.

    3. That assumes your tanks are traveling in line, on a road. Which wasn't normally the case except in the Bocage (or Monty's Market Garden fiasco). Moving on the roads, in column, was suicide for tanks when expecting opposition, in the Bocage it was the only option available until the Rhino tanks showed up. Troops move in column for speed.

    4. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa for jumping the gun. Never was good at waiting, which is why I took up woodworking, to learn patience. But I had this poster hanging on my wall from college up to the time I got married. ( Mrs J, having more class than I, dictated its demise.) But..."A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week." was the watch phrase uttered by someone with infinitely more combat experience than I. So I tried to heed that advice.

    5. I get that, Napoléon once told one of his marshals, "Activity, speed! I recommend them to you."

      Then again, patience is a virtue. Never spring a trap too early.

  3. It was during Vietnam that officers insignia went from normal to black. Nobody wanted a pair of shiny captain’s tracks on their helmets

    Is this the first time we had FACs?

    There’s a joke in one of Bill Malden’s cartoons about how Willy or Joe meets his nephew, who is in the Army Air Force.

    He looks like a kid, and he is a colonel

    Truth was the attrition was so terrible it was easy to get rank

    1. I believe it was the first time for using FACs with ground forces.

  4. Good story. Once the Allies were able to break the Bocage (with the hedge cutters and massive bombings) it really was a race to get ahead of the surrendering Germans. For a while. Not everywhere, just... almost everywhere.

    Breakout. It's what armored vehicles were designed for, and so rarely got to experience.

    The push out of Normandy, the landings and movement of Patton in the south of France, the continued dog's breakfast of Italy and Greece, all over the Western and Southern Fronts was just eating Germans alive.

    1. But not eating them as fast as in the East. Around this time Germany's Army Group Center essentially collapsed. Whereas casualty counts in the west were in the tens of thousands, in the east they were in the hundreds of thousands.

    2. Quite. It'll be sixes and sevens soon enough. A chap by the name of Monty is soon to make a go of it.


    3. You'll note that the lads from 15th Scottish are back, there is a reason for that.

      Also, a Polish chap we met on D-Day will soon be arriving with his new buddies.

    4. Poles in full cavalry mode. You never want (if you're the bad guy) for the Poles to go Full Cavalry.

    5. More generically, "Never piss off a Pole."

    6. Oh for the Winged Hussars!

  5. Always loved this bit about TAC AIR--

    "On August 1, Patton's Third Army was activated. It led the charge out of the Cotentin. The only thing slowing them down, Patton's tank crews reported back, was the wreckage of German vehicles and artillery that had been knocked out by Weyland's fighter-bombers. Patton was overjoyed and sent for Weyland to come to his command post. He greeted Weyland with a full quart of bourbon. "How about a drink?" By two in the morning the bottle was empty and the two generals were pals, swearing like boys to have no secrets from one another."

    From "Winged Victory" by Geoffrey Perret.

    I've posted this video here before. At the 25:20 mark, he tells a story that includes Major General Elwood Quesada, CO of the Ninth Tactical Air Force.

  6. My dad was a tank driver for Patton.

  7. The only tankers I've met were Marine. Even the common jarhead would take cover when a tanker lurked about. They were just mean all the time. No, more like pissed. No, ok, rowdy. Yeah, rowdy. Stand aside for the tankers. But watch your beer rations.

    1. My grandfather was a tanker during the First World War. Never made it overseas. Actually served with Eisenhower in Panama for a while.

      Tankers are different, Marine tankers take it to another level. Like most Marines do.

    2. For some of us, it's a personality type, and why we went into the Corps in the first place. For the rest of 'em, it's what gets pounded into them during the training. Chesty Puller kinda stuff.

    3. For clarity. I wasn't a tanker, but rather an Antitanker. My job was killing them, or otherwise taking them out of action, and there are an awful lot of ways to do that, some more temporary than others, bust just as effective for the purposes of the immediate conflict.

    4. Gotta love the Marines.

      No better friends...

    5. It often amazes the uninitiated how vulnerable tanks are to chaps who know how to kill one!


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