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The opening assault upon the Nazi had been a complete success, and with our objective reached in a much shorter time than had been anticipated, the battered city of Avranches became the Battalion's objective. Actually, this was merely tentative, for despite the use of all available Nazi strength in that area the German High Command had been unable to stem the allied tide which quickly overran this key city, gateway not only to Brittany but to all of France to the east. When the Super Sixth poured through Avranches, the Fourth Armored Division's grip on that sector was not only strengthened, but another steel prong burst out into Brittany; and in that history making drive that had no parallel in the annals of armored warfare, it was the 50th Armored Infantry Battalion that led the way.

In a last futile effort to stem the flow of steel that was to crush the last vestige of resistance on the rich Brittany Peninsula, the Nazi flung his still effective Luftwaffe at the column as it passed through Avranches. Fifteen FW 190's swooped down out of the sun, guns blazing, but as their first bursts became audible over the roar of motors, a hail of fire flew skyward, and four hard to replace Nazi birdmen crashed to earth. On a second run, the same American fire, more intense than before, kept the enemy at a height ineffective for strafing purposes. Only one other attempt was made by the German Air Force to molest our Battalion, during the Brittany drive and that came the following dawn as the column prepared to resume its advance. A lone enemy plane, flying low over the bivouac area, strafed our troops, but alert gunners on our tracks opened up with such a stream of lead that the would be one man air blitzkrieg, immediately departed for safer climes.

Moving toward Dinan, a small but strong enemy pocket encountered in the vicinity of Lanhelin was promptly wiped out after the enemy had fired on three lead peeps in the column occupied by the Battalion Commander, Major Paul S. Root Jr., (Battalion S-3,) and Lieutenant Walter R. Gattis, Reconnaissance Platoon leader.

Anticipating an attack on Dinan, toward which the column was moving, the enemy had built an outer defense in and around Lanvallay. His strong forces there were well prepared for our arrival, and when the column came within range Nazi guns opened a vicious rain of fire which might have disorganized less efficient troops. Once more Company "B" dismounted and, in the face of heavy enemy fire, a platoon led by Lieutenant Robert F. Hudson forced its way into the village. Savage street fighting followed, which soon had the remnants of the defending force on the run. With Lanvallay in our hands and the City of Dinan open for a direct assault by our troops, the now desperate Nazis brought heavy direct artillery fire on Lanvallay and its outskirts, causing some casualties and destroying two medium tanks that ware supporting our advance. At this point, Colonel Wall called for artillery fire on Dinan, an order that was immediately carried out. Under these circumstances a complete withdrawal from Lanvallay became necessary, and this was accomplished under the direction of Lieutenant William A. Johnson, assisted by Sergeant Frey and Private Thorpe, all of "B" Company.

The artillery duel was still in progress when combat command "B" was ordered to withdrew [withdraw] and to by-pass both Lanvallay and Dinan. This was the first of a series of lunges that was literally to cut the enemy to ribbons. From here on in that Brittany Campaign, the column alternately steamrollered its opposition or deftly side-stepped heavily fortified positions leaving the confused enemy holding formidable defenses which, when cut off by our by-passing tactics, became as worthless as a Storm Trooper's promise.

Leaving Dinan to be reduced by other elements follwing in our wake, the, column now proceeded Southward, then west toward Loudeac. Company "A" had gone ahead to scout enemy positions and to secure all bridges along the route of march; they learned from members of the FFI that a number of German troops had concealed themselves in Loudeac with the apparent intention of ambushing the column as it passed through that village. Upon the arrival of the main body of the column, "C" Company's Third Platoon, led by Lieutenant Asa H. Smith, and supported by a section of mortars from Headquarters Company went forward immediately to clear the town. Mortar fire was laid on the reported location of the enemy and, when not a single round was fired in return, Lieutenant Snith [Smith] led his men into another liberated town of France.

The drive to Brest was gathering momentum now, the race that was to tax the endurance of brawny men and sturdy vehicles was on in earnest. However, the enemy offered only scattered resistance until the column approached Carhaix, and here the Nazi indicated an intention to offer determined opposition to our progress. Meanwhile, Major General Robert W. Crow, [Grow] making one of his frequent appearances in our Battalion's zone of operations, ordered a bridge at Morlaix to be blocked in order to prevent the formidable enemy force garrisoning that northern Atlantic coast strongpoint from attacking the north flank of the Division as it sped westward toward Brest. Captain Haber "B" Company Commander, was ordered on this mission, 65 miles beyond our lines. Captain Haber's Task Force was composed of two rifle squads, a machine gun squad and a mortar squad, led respectively by staff Sergeants Baker, Cybor, Cobb and Shenko, while the enemy garrison numbered some 20,000. The small force established road blocks just south of Morlaix but was forced to remain under cover during daylight. They were given refuge by the FFI and although their presence was obviously made known to the enemy as the result of several minor skirmishes, they managed to hold their position until the entire Division had passed westward, whereupon they rejoined the Battalion. In the meantime our column had halted at the approaches to Carhaix at 0200 on the 3rd. Preliminary reconnaissance indicated that a considerable enemy force held strong positions here, and it was decited [decided] to by-bass the town. Consequently the column halted on the road, refueled, and waited for dawn. At dawn the column turned around headed north, then struck west again on a new route.

Just East of Le Cloitre, a Nazi anti-tank gun opened up on the column, its first round hitting the second tank. Other tanks in the column deployed at once, but not before four peeps riding the point were hit and destroyed by mounting enemy fire. The enemy, holding strong dug-in positions on either side of the road, now opened up with every weapon at his disposal, in an attempt to disorganize our force by means of these ambush tactics. Although he did succeed in inflicting heavy casualties, his ambush was doomed to miserable failure. Leading "A" Company's Third Platoon, Lieutenant Thomas R. Funnell launched an attack that soon had our troops routing the Nazis out of their brush covered holes. Few enemy troops survived the battering administered by the men from Company "C", and those who did were very probably among those who later taxed the capacity of the trucks that carted the erstwhile "super" men to Prisoner of War cages far to the rear.

Reforming immediately after enemy resistance in that area had been wiped out, the column moved on in the direction of Le Cloitre, where it was met with intense small arms fire. Following a brief artillery preparation, Lieutenant Funnell again led his Third Platoon forward mounted, and, accompanied by a medium tank platoon, cleared that village. Pressing onward to a point two miles West of Le Cloitre, the enemy attacked again, this time using small arms and mortars. Deadly panzerfaust fire succeeded in knocking out three medium tanks in rapid succession.

For gallantry in action in the vicinity of Le Cloitre, France, on August 5,1944, Technician 5th Grade Thomas R. Sills, Medical Department, 50th Armored Infantry Battalion was awarded the Silver Star. Although severely wounded in the right arm by a mortar shell fragment, he calmly applied a tourniquet to his wound, administered morphine to himself, and after dressing his own wound, continued to administer Aid to other casualties in the area. He emphatically refused to be evacuated until other Medical Personnel had arrived on the scene to carry on his work.

With its Third platoon occupying a hill serving as an Observation Post for the action beyond Le Cloitre, "A" Company's First and Second Platoon deployed on the left and right respectively, supported by a Headquarters Company mortar section, and the attack which followed carried our troops right into the midst of the enemy's cleverly concealed positions. Extremely heavy and highly effective fire made further advance impossible. Savage fighting continued throughout a period of four hours, at the end of which our troops were withdrawn. It was during this operation that the Battalion lost its first Officer, when Lieutenant Max Lebida of Headquarters Company was killed while manning a machine gun after its entire crew had become casualties. Considerable difficulty was encountered during the withdrawal, which finally was accomplished despite a continuous rain of Nazi fire. The night was spent near Le Cloitre, with strong outposts alerted for immediate action against possible enemy counterattacks. Early morning reconnaissance revealed that the enemy himself had withdrawn during the night, indicating that our assault of the previous day, while not entirely successful, had nevertheless proved to the Nazi that continued resistance on his part would terminate only in his complete annihilation.

The column now swung out on the narrow highway to resume its race through Brittany. The ensuing days took on a carnival-like atmosphere, as deliriously happy French civilians hailed our entry into town after town from which the master race had fled. Overjoyed on this day of liberation, joyous citizens of a new France, sang and danced in the streets and along the highways. Buxom maids of Brittany scrawled their names on the battle scarred sides of tanks and half tracks that thundered on to greater conquests, while children tossed flowers and fruit to weary but still grinning American Infantrymen. Older citizens, perhaps recalling the famous Yankee thirst, first evidenced by the Army of 1917-18, handed bottles of wine and calvados to the occupants of any vehicle whose driver had the foresight to slow down.

The Column continued on, riding all day and most of every night, occasionally overtaking remnants of German groups that had been soundly beaten in earlier encounters. Many of these readily surrendered, and those who didn't were promptly wiped out, among them a sizable German column that attempted a sneak through our sector near Bourg Blanc. When challenged by Private Oates of Company "A" forward elements of the enemy unit opened fire. Private Oates, manning a 30 Caliber machine gun, sprayed the roadway, instinctively directing his fire along the hedgerows. Daylight found a Brest-Bound Nazi force sprawled all over the highway, their equipment, including several horse drawn artillery pieces, a shambles.

The long, hot, dusty march was nearing its end when the Super SIXTH reached Bourg Blanc on August 7, 1944. Savage battles had been fought to cover that two hundred and fifty mile route, and some of these were classics. Lesneven, Milizac and Pontorson among others, are names that bring a glow of satisfaction to the troops who fought for their possession.

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Last updated: November 11, 2007