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The Battalion had reached its destination, and a terrific ordeal was now history. Yet the greatest task in the Brittany Campaign was still to be undertaken. The men had proven themselves, and although veterans of a mere eight days of combat, the Battalion was considered capable of containing an enemy force inside the City of Brest, a force that outnumbered it at least ten to one.

The German Command inside the Fortress of Brest was unquestionably amazed at the arrival of the Super SIXTH ARMORED DIVISION in the zone that it now occupied. Even if the enemy had been able to secure advance information concerning the Division's departure from England, they would still have reason to doubt, that scarcely three weeks before, these same troops relaxed at the rail of a troop-ship at anchor in the English Channel, calmly awaiting their baptism of fire.

It was not the intention of the Division's Commanding General to ease the confusion that existed in the Nazi minds at Brest; to add to the German dilemma columns of armored vehicles roved up and down the roads surrounding the City, repeating the performance often enough to create the impression on Nazi minds that a tremendous force was poised for the assault on the great Port City. Satisfied that his deception had the desired effect, General Crow [Grow] moved the remainder of the Division to the South to pen in the German garrisons at Lorient and Vannes.

Virtually alone now, our Battalion undertook the tremendously dangerous task of prolonging the deception introduced earlier. Quick exposure of the entire plan to the enemy would surely have followed had the Battalion remained inactive. Consequently, the Battalion was ordered to seize Hill 105, just southeast of Guipavas. This prominent terrain feature, just three miles from Brest, not only overlooked every road leading in to the great port, but also commanded a perfect view of the City itself. This valuable point of observation had to be in American hands if the capture of Brest was to be accomplished with any degree of speed. Therefore, pending the arrival of adequate Infantry support to open the attack on the City, our Battalion was given the mission of taking Hill 105.

This was to be no motor march; our troops would attack on foot in true infantry fashion. Nor could tanks be used to any extent in this operation. The Battalion was to operate as a Unit in contrast to previous engagements when one or two Platoons, with tank support, was usually sufficient to cope with any situation.

Private Ist [1st] Class Hugh Ferguson, "C" Company, 50th Armored Infantry Battalion was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action in the vicinity of Guipavas, France on August 19, 1944. Caught under heavy shell fire, several members of his Company were seriously wounded. Remaining behind after his squad had moved from the area, Pfc. Ferguson crawled to the side of the wounded men to administer first aid. In spite of the heavy enemy fire which swept the area, he treated the men and then success-fully evacuated them, thereby saving their lives.

The defenders of Hill 105 were well prepared to meet the attack that was launched against it by our Battalion on the morning of August 12, 1944. Bristling with weapons of all types, and each one perfectly concealed, the enemy, to make certain that a major battle would be required to make even the slightest impression on the position, had selected picked members of the Second German Paratroop Battalion, five thousand strong, to man those guns.

With "A" Company on the, left, "B" Company on the right, both supported by Headquarters Company, and "C" Company in Reserve, the opening blow was struck. After moving up some three hundred yards, elements of "A" Company observed a number of enemy troops digging-in, obviously preparing an outer defense rim. A call for an artillery barrage brought a swift reply, our shells landing in the midst of the enemy troops, inflicting heavy casualties in this first engagement at the base of Hill 105. Both Companies now advanced up the slopes, to be met by a withering blast of fire, including small arms, automatic weapons and mortars, as well as dual purpose 20 and 40 mm guns. Lieutenant William T. Holt, in position as Forward Observer for his 81 mm Mortar Platoon, noted considerable enemy activity in a nearby field, and immediately called for fire in that area. Ninety rounds were lobbed into the field he had indicated, and except for several German medics seen scurrying about, all activity in that location ceased abruptly. A few minutes later, the same observer detected an enemy ammunition handler carrying shells to a concealed position. This point was promptly made a target for Headquarters Company Mortarmen who scored several direct hits on the weapon, a big 75 mm, wrecking the gun and wiping out its entire crew.

Despite mounting casualties, our troops fought on with dogged determination for nine hours, at which time Colonel Wall ordered a withdrawal in order to effect reorganization. Once accomplished, a second attack began, with "C" Company replacing Company B in the assault elements. Moving in under a thunderous artillery barrage, our troops advanced approximately five hundred yards, only to be met by the same wicked stream of enemy fire from positions so well concealed that only a few troops could report having actually seen a German soldier.

In a last daring attempt to wrest Hill 105 from the enemy, all supporting weapons of Headquarters Company were brought up as far as possible, and immediately put into use. Assault guns moved up abreast of the Infantry, but lacking a field of fire and with no visible targets except concrete blockhouses capable of with standing the impact of our shells, the additional men and weapons were powerless to assist.

Sheer fatigue finally forced a halt after darkness had overtaken the operation, and the Battalion dug in along the axis of advance and prepared to defend against the expected counter attack. Realizing the tremendous risk if that attack should come while we held such a precarious position, Colonel Wall asked for and received permission to effect a complete withdrawal. As had been anticipated, the enemy counter attacked while our Battalion was in the act of moving back. The dog-tired men had to fight against fresh enemy reserves every inch of the way, but, fighting a strong rear guard actions the difficult withdrawal to a point behind the original line of departure was successfully accomplished.

Actually, the German defenders came perilously close to losing Hill 105 to our Battalion which came within a scant four hundred yards of overrunning those long planned gun positions on that hill near Guivapas, France.

To have failed in the attempt was by no means a disgrace, a fact borne out a short time later when an entire Infantry Division succeeded in taking the hill, but only after a full week of savage fighting.

Private John Iolonardi, "A" Company, 50th Armored Infantry Battalion, was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action in the vicinity of Penallon, France on August 27, 1944. While advancing as lead scout of his Company's Platoon against a known enemy dug-in position, he braved the fire of two enemy machine guns to place himself within grenade throwing range. Tossing fragmentation grenades until his supply was exhausted, Private Iolonardi deliberately stood up, and in full view of the German gunners, threw a white phosphorous grenade into the position, an act that brought about the immediate surrender of the twelve Nazis who had survived. The collapse of that strong-point enabled troops of his Unit to reads their objective.

Our Battalion now occupied positions just Northeast [of] Guipavas, and were deployed in such a way as to cover all approaches to the sector. The troops were haggard and worn, but the critical situation doomed any hope for a respite, at least not until additional infantry reached the sector. That could not be expected on any specific date, chiefly because the great speed with which the Division had shot across Brittany had far surpassed even the most optimistic hopes held by the Allied High Command. There was at least some consolation in the knowledge that the enemy was not yet aware of the small force arrayed against him. The following eight days and nights were like some horrible nightmare. Taut nerves jumped at the slightest sound, and invariably such sounds came from the movement of enemy patrols probing through our lines, becoming bolder and more convinced each day that they had been tricked. But through it all, alert Americans fended off any and every enemy attempt to infiltrate far enough behind our advance outposts to cause serious apprehension.

Throughout the entire period Wire Crews led by Lieutenant Charles S. Knowlson, capably assisted by Crew Chief, Tech Sergeant James Mc Lain, performed a magnificent job, maintaining perfect communications before, during and after each engagement. The problem of Supply became a major consideration, Service Company vehicles running a daily gauntlet of enemy observation and fire to effect re-supply. Night and day, the men under Captain Robert S. Blackwood made one hundred and sixty mile round trip journeys through enemy infested territory to bring back from the nearest Supply Depot, equipment and supplies vitally needed in the situation that developed at Guipavas.

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Last updated: November 11, 2007