Staff and organization
Table of Contents
Seille River Campaign
The directive from Corps had not ordered an advance beyond AVRANCHES
as of the beginning of the month. Because of this reason, the Reserve
Command, rather than Combat Command A or B, had been given the mission
of holding the bridges south of that city. The Division policy at this
time, and throughout the balance of the way, was to use Reserve Command
headquarters primarily to control all combat troops temporarily held in
divisional reserve, and secondarily to carry out defensive missions which
did not require the complete command set-up provided in a combat command
headquarters. There were times, however, as this history will show,
when it was necessary for the Reserve Command to undertake offensive action.
There was only one road through AVRANCHES and PONTAUBAULT, and over this road it would be necessary to move all of the divisions of the VIII Corps. 6th Armored MPs took charge of the road and kept it open for division traffic for 24 hours. It was the worst bottleneck encountered bv the division during the war, and conditions were made worse by the Luftwaffe, who bombed and strafed the road especially during the hours of darkness. This concentrated air activity continued heavi y against the Division's columns for a 72 hour period commencing 31 July. Early in the Division's rou e considerable small arms and sniper fire marked the way. In the vicinity of BREE determined enen y resistance was encountered. Light and medium artillery, 88mm direct fire, mortar and bazooka fire harassed the column's progress.
During the all night march, FFI men were out in each town to guide columns. On 5 August, another bypass was made, information reached the Division from the FFI that the city of CARHAIX was heavily prepared for defense by 2,000 German paratroopers of the 2nd Paratroop Division. As a result of the Division's bypassing movement, the city was later evacuated, and the armor was not delayed on its advance on BREST.
During the same afternoon after bypassing CARHAIX, the two combat commands advance on HUELGOAT. After engaging the enemy for two hours at POLLAOUEN and driving the remnants back to HUELGOAT, the command continued only to be stopped by a well prepared minefield and numerous road blocks, which littered the defile in which it was marching.
Combat Command A moved forward on HUELGOAT from the south. The
command after a sharp action captured the village, forcing the remaining
force to withdraw into the MORLAIX sector. Combat Command B proceeded
to the north, after bypassing CARHAIX. At noon, 5 August, brisk enemy
action was encountered east of LE CLOITRE. The resistance was reduced,
and by early afternoon the march was resumed. Upon reaching LE CLOITRE,
Combat Command B's advance guard met several mortar and artillery barrages
intensive machine gun fire. Darkness set in postponing the attack until the following morning, 6 August, when all resistance in the village was overcome.
While Combat Command B engaged the enemy at LESNEVEN on 6 August, Troop D, 86th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron Mechanized encountered d force superior to them in number, in the village of CHATEAUNEUF. The Reconnaissance Troop disengaged the enemy to bypass this resistance.
Although all of BRITTANY is a hedgerow country, the hedges in the vicinity of BREST are particularly formidable. The earth embankments, often reaching the height of over six feet, are surmounted by trees and shrubs. Observation is extremely limited. Tank bulldozers, of which the Division had only two, proved to be the only equipment that could knock down these hedges.
In the final days of the drive on BREST a fierce and determined enemy
was met by the 6th Armored Division. The village of PLOUVIEN was
originally captured and liberated by Combat Command B on 7 August and on
two successive mornings was retaken from enemy troops who had filtered
back into the village in their attempted withdrawal from MORLAIX to the
coast, and were harassing Division Trains.
If these three columns could have struck simultaneously during the day of 7 August, before the enemy had a chance to recover from the surprise which the approach from the north occasioned, it is very likely that the city could have been entered against light resistance. As was proved later, the defenses in the vicinity of GUIPAVAS were not prepared to meet a strong attack on this day. Unfortunately, the columns could not arrive at the same time, and Combat Command B, which encountered the strongest of the BREST defenses, arrived first. It was late in the evening before the Reserve Command came up in the center and Combat Command A, due to very bad road conditions and spotty resistance, halted some distance north of its assigned position. The enemy was given ample warning to man his defenses to the northeast and to sight his anti-aircraft guns for ground fire.
These defenses continued to be strengthened by reinforcements arriving from the CROZON PENINSULA, so that the task became more difficult each day.
On the morning of 8 August, the Division G-2, Lt. Col. Ernest W. Mitchell Jr., entered the fortress city of BREST in a 1/4 ton flying a white flag, and was taken to the German commander where he delivered an ultimatum in the name of the Division Commander. The ultimatum, which gave the fortress the choice of surrendering or of being destroyed, was refused.
Achange in the entire plan was forced, however, early that evening.
A considerable enemy force, which was identified in a few hours as the
266 German Infantry Division, was moving toward BREST from MORLAIX by way
of PLOUVIEN and elements had struck the rear of the Division, including
the Division Trains, during the early evening. A serious threat was
building up, but by midnight the German Division Commander was captured
and the identity of the unit was determined. Therefore, General Grow
immediately cancelled the attack on BREST, and directed the combat commands
to reverse their directions, leave a covering force facing BREST, and move
to the north at daylight
to attack and destroy the enemy Division.
By 10 August, the 266th German Infantry Division was considered completely
destroyed, and the greater part of the 6th Armored Division troops were
in an assembly area west of PLOUVIEN. It was the first day since
27 July that the troops had an opportunity for a day's rest and reservice.
Plans continued for an attack against BREST, and artillery positions were
picked that would allow for support of attacking column all the way into
the city without a displacement of guns.
The diversion of the fight with the infantry division that had come in on the rear of the 6th Armored Division allowed the garrison at BREST to become fully alerted and the chance for capture by a sudden stroke, which might have been possible on 7 August, was now lost. At this time it was estimated that there were 20,000 enemy troops in BREST.
Three days earlier, the Division Commander had called upon VIII Corps for reinforcements of both artillery and infantry to insure a successful attack on BREST. Now orders were received at 1900 on 12 August to halt the attack on BREST, leave one combat command to contain the enemy, and move at once the remainder of the Division to the LORIENT area to relieve the 4th Armored Division. VIII Corps then began the movement of 3 Infantry Divisions to assault the Fortress City.
The Commander of Combat Command B made arrangements to relieve elements
of the 4th Armored Division in the area north and east of VANNES beginning
on 14 August. The Command closed in an assembly area about 2 miles
north of LOCMINE at 132300. The move had been made without incident.
There was no enemy contact and no casualties either to vehicles or personnel
were suffered during thelllmilemarch. ReserveCommand marched toward
LORIENT at 1200 to relieve other 4th Armored Division troops containing
the fortress there. The Command arrived in a temporary bivouac in
the vicinity of LE FAOUET at 2045.
By 15 August, all elements of the 4th Armored Division were relieved in the LORIENT sector of the Peninsula. The front included the defenses of LORIENT and QUIBERON PENINSULA to the east, a line of some 25 miles, plus patrols as far west as the base
of the DAOULAS PENINSULA and east to REDON.
LORIENT'S garrison was too strong to be attacked, so that activity on both sides was limited to patrolling and artillery action. Tankers and tank destoyer personnel operated dismounted the same as infantry, cavalry and engineers.
Since entering combat on the 18th of July the Division had been continuously
move. This was the first time in thirty days that the men had been given a rest and to summarize the lessons learned in the month's action. To increase the battle training of the Division and to destroy all enemy personnel and materiel possible, the Commanding General directed the following tactics in the performance of this containing mission:
1. That every stratagem be used to "mouse-trap" enemy patrols. To this end, Division Artillery established approximately 12 observation posts along the Division front from the coast west of LORIENT to the BLAVET River. Enemy patrols were permitted to advance well forward to open areas before artillery fire was brought down on them. On several occasions forward observers in fox holes at OPs permitted enemy patrols to reach the area of their OPs before directing artillery fire on their own OP and the enemy. Also, enemy troops were permitted to penetrate our lines sometimes as deep as a mile before being cut off and attacked by local reserves.
2. That a system of patrolling deep into the enemy lines be instituted in the sector from the coast west of LORIENT east to the SCORFF River. This system prevailed daily throughout the entire month the division was at LORIENT. Patrols consisted of 25 to 50 men under the control of one or more officers and included an artillery officer forward observer. These patrols were very successful in destroying isolated enemy forces and numerous artillery pieces.
3. That all fronts be extensively booby-trapped. A comprehensive system of booby-trapping the entire front in the LORIENT area was instituted and ingenious additions and enlargements throughout the month so thoroughly booby-trapped the front that it was very difficult for the enemy to pass through our lines at night without setting one off.
For the first time on French soil a formation of all available personnel in the Division was held in the vicinity of PLOUAY, on 25 August, in a Memorial Service commemorating those members of the Division who lost their lives in the BRITTANY campaign. The three-round salute by a platoon of TDs was with service ammunition laid on LORIENT.
Something new in "V" weapons was the one constructed by the 9th Armed
Infantry Battalion while the division contained the LORIENT sector-the
"Gestel Special". Acquiring an old automobile and modifying the wheels
to run on rails, it was loaded with 700 pounds of TNT and sent down the
tracks near the 9th outpost to meet a daily German supply train;which ran
from LORIENT to GESTEL., Results of the experiment are not known but it
did explode down the track,-27 minutes after it was released.
The story of the BRITTANY campaign would not be complete without a mention of one of the few excursions sent out by the division to capture small water-front garrisons. One of these was CONCCARNEAU, approached with a task force under Lt. Col. Brown. His report is presented below just as he submitted it to the Division Commander.
"Negotiations continued until 2300 during which time the Germans wanted our task force to fire over the Germans' heads while they fired into an empty field. This was not agreed on and they finally consented to surrender their fortress. Lt. Gilpin (Military Intelligence & Interpretation Team) came back to the Division Headquarters to pick up six additional trucks and six ambulances. These vehicles left Division area at 0400. Meanwhile, two higher ranking Nazi officers exerted enough force to prevent capitulation of the garrison at specified time and Col. Brown agreed to wait until 0600 at which time the prisoners were to march out.
At 0600 the same two German officers came out again and said that the majority of the garrison wanted to surrender but that the same two officers still refused to surrender the garrison. The marine captain suggested that if our tanks could be seen by the garrison they would certainly capitulate. Two TDs were brought up on the sky line east of town in plain view of the whole area.
The public address system was used again. Capt. Samiripa went back into town and contacted the two friendly German officers who pointed out the command post in the hotel and machine gun guarding same, suggesting that the tanks come into town and. shoot up the command post. This Col. Brown refused to do. Agreement was finally reached and TDs fired 40 rounds of HE and AP into the CP and at two plainly visible artillery sites, knocking out the guns. Public address system was used again and ninety prisoners in the immediate vicinity of the truck came out and surrendered. After an hour's wait no additional enemy appeared and the task force moved on back to the Division area. No rounds were fired by the Germans throughout the period."
"The Germans are very much afraid of the French FFI."
At noon, 28 August, Combat Command B moved on orders to clear the enemy from the north bank of the LOIRE River from NANTES to ORLEANS. Operating in two columns, the command moved east. As the southern column neared BEAUGENCY north of the LOIRE River, it came under enemy small arms and antitank fire from the south bank of the river. The fire was fire was returned, and the enemy was driven out of range. Combat Command B reached LORRIS 1 September without further incident.
on the heels of the LORRIS mission, Combat Command B received 2 September
the task to protect the southern flank of the Third U. S. Army from ORLEANS
Spread out as the Division was up to now, these orders extended its units and before the Division was, again operative' as a combat unit in one area it stretched a distance of 460 miles from BREST to AUXIERRE. In the center of this huge expansion, from REDON to ORLEANS, the 83rd Infantry Division was responsible for the south flank. Combat Command A assumed responsibility for the entire LORIENT front, and was given the remaining troops of Reserve Command.
On 5 September Third Army Operations Orders were published, placing the Division in Army Reserve upon its relief from the present mission. On the same day, the Division, less Combat Command B, was relieved from the Third Army and assigned 'to the Ninth Army. The Commanding General of the Nint'h Army, Lieutenant General Simpson, visited the Division and on 7 September inspected the front.
Relief of the Division at LORIENT was made by the 94th Infantry Division, beginning 10 September and being completed 16 September, the date of thepas.T@,-ing of command responsibility. The Division was reassigned to the Third U. S. Army. All the Division units except those with Combat Conunand B were ordered to assemble in the vicinity of LORRIS by 18 September.
Meanwhile, while Combat Command B held the right flank of the Third U. S. Army, its commander was directed to contact the Seventh U. S. Army driving up from the south. At SAULIEU, first physical contact was made between Third and Seventh U. S. Armies. Combat Command B's Troop B, 86th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron Mechanized, linked up with the southern Army's Second Dragoons, Second French Armored Division, at 1600 11 September.
The Brittany campaign was finished. The 6th Armored Division had
driven a distance of 230 miles, cutting a swath twenty miles wide through
the center of the BRITTANY PENINSULA; disrupting and destroying communications
which precipitated the complete disorganization of the enemy's garrisons,
comprised of about 60,000 troops; killed an estimated 4,000 enemy troops
and captured 6,270; and 1,000 guns, combat and other vehicles were knocked
out or abandoned during the period. The 6th Armored Division turned east.
Greater things lay ahead.
Staff and organization
Table of Contents
Seille River Campaign
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