THE BRITTANY CAMPAIGN
THE LANDING on Utah Beach was accomplished on July 24 and as the squadron moved inland to Ste. Mere Eglise war became a reality. So great was the devastation wreaked by both enemy and allied troops that hardly a stone stood on a stone. Yet the sturdy Normans appeared as if from nowhere to welcome the Americans.
From Ste. Mere Eglise it was northwest to Valognes and then southwest to a bivouac area in the apple orchards 1 1/2 miles west of Fieryville.
It was from this point on July 27, that the 86th's Troop A, under command of Capt. Frederick H. Eickhoff, and the first platoon of Troop E's assault guns, the third platoon of Company F's light tanks and a reconnaissance section from the 25th Engineers became the first elements of the 6th Armored Division to be committed to action.
The division at the time was assigned to VIII Corps, First Army, whose mission was to secure the high ground northwest of Coutances in support of a main effort by VII Corps to seize commanding ground on the right bank of the Sienne River and destroy the enemy in the Coutances-St. Lo area.
Troop A reinforced moved out at 1630 and was successful in its original mission of passing through the 8th Infantry Division and seizing high ground in the vicinity of Le Bingard.
On July 28, Troop A reinforced and Capt. Donald L. Tilleman's Troop B with a platoon from Troop E were assigned to Brig. Gen. James Taylor's Combat Command A and pushed forward to reconnoiter crossings of the Sienne River west of Coutances as the division advanced 26 miles.
Troop A had the distinction of making the division's first kill when Pfc. Willis T. Clymer picked off a German messenger, and also captured the division's first prisoners.
The squadron moved out at 0430 on July 29 to reconnoiter ahead of the division's axis of advance and captured two prisoners identified from the 1057th Infantry Regiment before closing in bivouac near Blanchet after covering 29 1/2 miles. Capt. Daniel C. Moore's Troop C was ordered to reconnoiter along the Sienne for possible crossings and Capt. Charles Roodman's Troop D was sent to contact the unit on the left flank of CCA.
July 29 brought the 86th's first casualties.
A direct hit from an 88 destroyed a Company F light tank, killing Sgt. Paul Risko and Pfc John E. Pickney, wounding T5 John Dudley and resulting in Pvt. John Girometti being listed as missing in action.
Pfc Pickney was the division lightweight boxing champion and Sgt. Risko was a brother of Johnny Risko, at one time a highly ranked contender for the world heavyweight championship,
A noteworthy job was done on the spot by T5 Francis Eastman of the Medics, who was wounded while attempting to give first aid to the tankers trapped in the burning vehicle.
Not far from that scene Troop A's 2nd Lt. John Kopchak Jr. had one leg fractured and the other damaged badly enough to necessitate amputation while neutralizing time bombs on a bridge over the Sienne in the vicinity of Bricqueville.
Sgt. Max B. Hansen, who was assisting Lt. Kopchak at the time, braved enemy fire to apply a tourniquet to his wounded platoon leader's leg and carry him to safety.
Both Lt. Kopchak and Sgt. Hansen were awarded Silver Star medals for gallantry in action.
Troop B plus a platoon from Troop E was attached to Col. George W. Read's Combat Command B on July 30 and took the lead as CCB passed through CCA to cross the Sienne and advance via Brehal toward Granville with a mission to block the south and east exits from the city.
Elements of the troop joined two light tanks from Company D of the 69th Tank Battalion south of Brehal and were headed for Granville when they ran into a heavy concentration of fire from a battery of 88s.
Separated from the light tanks, Capt. Tillemans staggered his three M8s and command halftrack on the road, where they stayed while troopers dismounted to search nine German prisoners who had materialized. At this point a concealed 88 opened fire, killing three Germans and wounding three more in addition to playing havoc among the B Troopers. Four enlisted men were killed, Capt. Tillemans and seven enlisted men were wounded and the three armored cars and halftrack were destroyed. 1st Lt. Clarence S. Browning assumed command of the troop.
Cpl. Joe G. Pearce was cited for gallantry for braving heavy cannon fire to rescue his wounded platoon sergeant, S/Sgt. Virgil Couty, from a burning armored car. Cpl. Pearce, who burned his hands in the process but rejoined his troop several days later, received the Silver Star.
Meanwhile, the squadron continued its mission of reconnoitering ahead of the division axis of advance, marching 21 miles before closing in bivouac a mile south of Brehal.
The squadron moved out in late afternoon of July 31 and underwent attack by enemy aircraft on a 13-mile march to a bivouac area 1 1/2 miles north of Sartilly early the next morning.
At midnight of July 31 - August 1 it became a whole new ball game as the Third Army became operational under Gen. George S. Patton Jr., who forthwith gave Gen. Grow verbal orders to capture Brest.
The squadron cleared the bottleneck at Avranches and turned west toward Brittany, marching approximately 27 miles to a point just west of Ville Chere. Troop C was assigned to the division's north flank and outposts of Capt. James F. Delaney's Troop E and Capt. Harold L. Hughes' Company F were bombed by enemy aircraft.
On August 2 the race for Brest was on in earnest and the squadron covered 41 miles before stopping a half-mile west of Le Boullerais.
CCA and CCB advanced west in two columns with CCB on the right. Although the 86th at first was unable to gain its position properly to cover the division front because of an impossible traffic situation, its troops later in the day led or protected the flanks of both columns.
The squadron had cleared Merdrignac and moved into the vicinity of Loudeac on August 3 before VIII Corps ordered the division to stop all movement west and divert sufficient force north to capture Dinan, which had been bypassed. CCB was halted eight miles east of Loudeac and instructed to go into an assembly area and await further orders. The 86th was ordered to reconnoiter routes northeast to envelop Dinan and report results to CCB, or to continue west and cover the west flank in the event CCB turned northeast. A march of 31 miles wound up in bivouac three miles west of Loudeac.
The next three days were to cost the lives of a troop commander and two platoon leaders.
Troop D was performing route reconnaissance when S/Sgt. Irvin C. Shoemaker spotted something suspicious and halted the column. Troop commander Capt. Charles Roodman, in going forward, came across two Germans with their hands over their heads. No sooner had he dismounted from his peep than another German in ambush opened fire and killed Capt. Roodman. 1st Lt. Jimmie H. Bridges took over command of the troop.
VIII Corps called off the attack on Dinan and the squadron continued its drive toward Brest in late afternoon of August 4, following CCB to the outskirts of Carhaix.
2nd Lt. Arthur J. Grossman of Troop E, on discovering that a bridge over the Oust River was blown, volunteered to reconnoiter for a ford by which to bypass the bridge. Told that the banks of the stream had been mined, he dismounted and under enemy fire reconnoitered the area in order to verify the information. He was killed when a charge of five mines was detonated.
Heavily defended Carhaix was bypassed for alternate routes by CCA to the south and west and CCB to the north and east with the squadron starting route reconnaissance at dawn on August 5.
1st Lt. Alton L. House of Troop C was leading his platoon's scout section on a reconnaissance mission when he encountered a gun emplacement at a roadblock where three tanks had already been destroyed. He was killed leading his section into enemy fire in an attempt to reduce the obstacles.
Capt. Roodman, Lt. Grossman and Lt. House all were awarded Silver Stars posthumously for their aggressiveness and leadership.
Meanwhile, Troop A was given a mission of reconnoitering south and east of Le Cloitre and the squadron bivouacked in the vicinity of Le Cloitre for the night after marching 75 miles over a two-day period.
Troop D, reconnoitering ahead of CCA, ran into heavy resistance five miles west of Chateauneuf and was forced to withdraw through Gorin after losing two officers and 21 enlisted men. A message received by squadron at 2205 reported the troop out of contact with CCA and requested squadron location.
Killed in action in Chateauneuf were T5 Ruby A. McKinney, T5 Anthony J. Pilipaic, T5 Paul D. Shaver, T5 Stanley L. Turner, Cpl. Martin J. Clark, T5 Donald D. Roehm, Cpl. Dwight L. Neff, Cpl. Edward J. Powers, Cpl. Harold R. Yoder, Pvt. Chester Galloway, Pvt. John N. Hall of Troop D and Pvt. Hoyt A Cannon of Troop E. They later were honored with a memorial at Chateauneuf-du-Faou.
On August 6 Troop D moved toward Huelgoat in an attempt to contact CCA. Resupply was accomplished through the FFI and when the rear guard of CCA was contacted four kilometers west of Huelgoat the troop was assigned rear guard duties for CCA trains.
Meanwhile, Troops B and C performed route reconnaissance between Landiesian and Plouvourin and Troop A was assigned to a roadblock at Pleyber Christ.
Squadron (-) closed just east of Lesneven after covering 25 miles.
Squadron moved 17 miles the following day to a site 1 1/2-miles southwest of Bourg Blanc and eight miles on August 8 to an area a mile south of Plabennec, protecting the division's rear and flank. It arrived under enemy fire which continued throughout the night.
Troop E's assault guns destroyed an enemy observation post and it was revealed by prisoners later that the assault gun fire had given the enemy an exaggerated estimate of the squadron's strength and consequently was responsible for staving off an attack.
Troop A, setting up roadblocks on all roads in the vicinity of Plouvien, met an enemy column moving toward Brest. In the ensuing action Capt. Eickhoff was wounded in the leg and evacuated. 1st Lt. Alden L. Berg assumed command of the troop.
Squadron (-) remained in place August 9 while Troops B and C maintained patrols, B in the vicinity of Bourg Blanc and C in the Gouesnou area. Troop B destroyed 12 horse-drawn Artillery wagons.
The CP remained unchanged for three more days as combat elements formed a protective screen south of the division area and reconnoitered eastern exits from Brest south of Guipavas. Troop A and Troop E minus one platoon were attached to CCA and pushed south to gain Artillery OPs. Then, with the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division, following, they attacked south toward Kernhoas. Despite heavy resistance and repeated counterattacks the Recon forces held OPs southwest of Guipavas.
On August 12 division received orders from VIII Corps to leave one combat command to contain Brest and move all other troops to the Lorient area to relieve the 4th Armored Division.
Troop A, Troop E minus one platoon and detachments from Headquarters Troop and Company F were attached to CCA, which remained behind, and the rest of the squadron moved out under control of CCB on August 13. Troop B reconnoitered in advance of CCB on a 115-mile march and an additional 22-mile trek the next day brought the squadron (-) to its bivouac area 1 1/2 miles north of Vannes. Troop B was assigned to CCB and with a platoon of Company B, 15th Tank Battalion, relieved elements of the 4th Armored Division's 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron Mechanized near Milizac. The 86th (-) occupied a sector from Hennebont to Landevant and patrolled east to Redon.
It was about this time that a Headquarters Troop peep driver spotted 2nd Lt. John N. Hughes, former assistant S4 with the 86th, in Pontivy.
Lt. Hughes was delighted to see someone from the old outfit and extended an invitation to return later. The upshot was that one of the Forward Echelon halftracks suddenly acquired a trailer filled with Wermacht liquor, courtesy of Lt. Hughes, who had become a supply officer with the division's Civil Affairs Section.
The squadron CP moved 20 miles to a position three-quarters of a mile north of Pluvigner on August 16 and there it remained for a month, maintaining active patrols during the period.
A number of troopers took advantage of the proximity to visit the famous Basilica of Saint Anne D'Auray.
Troop D, meanwhile, established headquarters near Carhaix under control of division in order to maintain patrols on the assigned route of Le Faouet-Gourin-Chateauneuf-Chateaulin. It extended its recon activities to include enemy installations and movements on the Crozon Peninsula during the period August 23-27 before returning to squadron control.
Troop B was assigned to CCB on August 28.
Capt. Delaney of Troop E, the senior officer of the 86th elements left at Brest, was appointed Recon Task Force commander and ordered to report to CCA. The TF was attached to Combat Team 50 as flank guard in containing the garrison, then joined the 28th Infantry Regiment in providing reconnaissance and flank protection during the period August 17-19.
With the departure of CCA on August 21 to rejoin the division at Lorient, the Recon TF was attached to the 8th Infantry Division with the mission of reconnoitering the Le Conquet Peninsula in the vicinity of St. Renan.
Released from the 8th Infantry Division on August 23, the TF was assigned to the 29th Infantry Division with the mission of screening the division's assembly and working with the 175th Infantry Regiment to protect the left flank.
By August 25 the TF consisted of Troop E minus one platoon, Troop A, two platoons from Company F, two armored cars and two jeeps from Headquarters Troop and four companies from the 2nd Ranger Battalion with one battalion from the 175th Infantry Regiment in reserve as the combined Infantry-Armor assault on Brest began. The TF seized its objectives the next two days and Troop A's second platoon with one company of Rangers cut the main supply route to Le Conquet, setting up roadblocks along the way.
On August 28 the TF was assigned to protect the right flank of the 116th Infantry Regiment and Troop A was attached to the 2nd Ranger Battalion. That situation prevailed for the remainder of the period.
The 86th's After Action Report for the period July 27 - August 31 reported three officers and 17 enlisted men killed in action, seven officers and 37 enlisted men wounded in action and 43 enlisted men missing in action. Ten M8 armored cars, five M3A1 halftracks, two light tanks, one 75mm M8 howitzer and 12 1/4-ton trucks were destroyed.
Because troops frequently were assigned to other units and because of their rapid advance in covering 444 miles during the period, it was not possible to determine accurately a summary of enemy losses. An estimate placed them as 40 killed, 90 wounded and 590 captured with 45 vehicles and one steel boat with a capacity of 300 men destroyed--the latter by the assault gunners of Troop E's fourth platoon.
In addition to the Silver Stars awarded to Lt. Kopchak, Sgt. Hansen and Cpl. Pearce and the posthumous awards to Capt. Roodman, Lt. House and Lt. Grossman, three others were bestowed on 86thers during the period. The recipients were Capt. Eickhoff for his brilliant leadership of Troop A, 1st Lt. Nile M. Bunch of Troop D for courageously continuing to lead his platoon after having been wounded and to S/Sgt. Thomas E. Blanton of Troop D for jeopardizing his life in attempting to rescue wounded comrades from a burning vehicle.
In his summary of operations, Col. Harris noted that troops were prone to stick to one route; upon encountering the enemy did not quickly fan out to seek other routes; failed to get off the roads immediately upon receiving fire, and took too much time in dissemination of orders within platoons.
"It is felt that experience is the only teacher and all have profited in this rapid march on Brest," Col. Harris said. "The patrolling that has been done in the containing of Brest and Lorient has taught the troops many things. The missions assigned the squadron have been entirely within its scope but the rapidity of the conquest of the Brittany Peninsula and the various changes in missions and routes without maps and with poor radio communications made the duties arduous and widespread. The size of the squadron is limited and this must be remembered by all higher commanders. Too many commanders still have the tendency to employ reconnaissance units in the wrong role. Timely information of the enemy can only be obtained if sufficient time, clear orders and a thorough understanding of what is desired by the superior commander is placed before the commander of the reconnaissance units."
As September arrived the squadron (-) was still at Pluvigner, Troops A and E (-) with two platoons of Company F and a detachment from Headquarters Troop remained at Brest and Troop B was with CCB.
Troop B's assignment led to a unique experience on September 11· CCB was ordered to send out patrols representing the Third Army to contact elements of the Seventh Army coming up from the south. The first contact was made by a patrol from Troop B with the 2nd Dragoons of the French 2nd Armored Division in the village of Autun.
A published picture of the historic linkup (Page 118, "The Super Sixth") shows Troop B's Sgt. Louis Basil and his French counterpart reaching across their armored cars to shake hands with 2nd Lt. Vernon Hill, Cpl. Edgar Ellis and Cpl. Carl Newman looking on.
September 12 was a day to remember for the 86th. Gen. Taylor was relieved as CO of CCA and replaced by Col. Harry F. Hanson of Reserve Command. The 86th's Col. Harris was appointed CO of Reserve Command and executive officer Maj. George M. Gaither was transferred to division. In the chain reaction that followed, S3 Maj. Harry C. Brindle became squadron CO, S2 Capt. William U. Kennon became executive officer, liaison officer Capt. Steve C. Bohunicky became S3, 1st Lt. Robert C. King of Troop C became S2 and 1st Lt. Donald Harris became liaison officer. Meanwhile, Capt. Tillemans returned from the hospital and reassumed command of Troop B.
This, then, was the new lineup as division was relieved by the 94th Infantry Division and moved to the area of Lorris in preparation for its next campaign.
The 86th left Company F's headquarters section and one platoon of light tanks attached to the 94th and was not to see those elements again until October 20.
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