The Far Shore in Normandy
Waiting their turn on D-day to make the 11-mile run from the transport area in the English Channel to OMAHA Beach, the Ordnance ammunition team aboard LST 376 looked over the side with mounting concern. The first waves of the invasion-the tank-laden LCT's (some carrying DD swimming tanks) and the infantry-had gone off on schedule in the darkness; but as day broke, a hazy, misty morning, the men saw that there was a nasty chop in the Channel with swells running high, and that the small craft circling around their LST were having trouble.
A few minutes before H-hour (0630), Lt. James N. McPartland, the commanding officer of the 56-man team, started for the shore to reconnoiter for an ammunition dump site, getting rides for himself, Sgt. Sam Godino, and Pvt. Albin E. Petrovich in DUKW's carrying 105-mm. howitzers. Their destination was Fox Green Beach, in the eastern sector of OMAHA, but they did not get very far. Sergeant Godino's DUKW became waterlogged and had to be towed back to the LST by a Coast Guard cutter. It sank just as the last man jumped onto the deck ladder. A few minutes later another Coast Guard cutter brought in Private Petrovich, who had been hauled out of his foundering DUKW. The men saw no more of Lieutenant McPartland and presumed him lost, though actually he had been rescued and carried back to England.
Shortly after the DUKW debacle the rest of the team headed for the shore in a Rhino ferry. This was a barge-made of ponton units and propelled by outboard motors-that was big enough to carry 2-1/2 ton trucks as well as men. Towed across the channel by the LST's, the Rhinos were another innovation of this invasion. Unlike the swimming tanks, of which only 5 of the 32 destined for the eastern sector of OMAHA survived the heavy sea, the Rhinos were virtually unsinkable, but they were unwieldy and slow. During the long, rolling voyage the ammunition men, who had a good chance of being the first Ordnance men ashore, had time to review what they had been told about the terrain and the job they were to do.
The part of the Normandy coast forever to be known as OMAHA had a wide tidal flat with an embankment of coarse shingle. (Map 5) Beyond the shingle was a level shelf of sand with patches of marsh grass, then bluffs cut by four ravines forming exits to inland villages. Near Colleville, the village on the extreme east, to be located by its church steeple, the men on the Rhino were to set up a dump in support of the 37th Engineer Combat Battalion. They were the first team of the 616th Ordnance
Ammunition Company. About two hours later they were to be joined by the third team, attached to the 348th Engineer Combat Battalion, which was to set up another dump in the neighborhood. The second team, which the rest of the company called the "home guard," was to come in next day to reinforce the two dumps. All were a part of the 251st Ordnance Battalion, assigned to the 5th Engineer Special Brigade, and for months had been training in England with the Engineers. The first and third teams had participated in the FABIUS dress rehearsal in May.
About 1300, nearly three hours behind schedule, the Rhino approached the shore. The men saw shell explosions and vehicles afire on the. beach. The barge ahead of them was hit several times and burst into flames. One LCI ordered them back; another told them to go in. The men put on their pistol belts and packs, loudly cursing the heavy loads, while praying under their breaths. When they approached the shore a second time, they were again warned by an LCI with a loud-speaker to "Get the Hell away from the beach."
"And so," as the historian of the company recorded,
our rhino continued to meander amongst the myriad number of LCT's, LCI's, LCVP's, destroyers and cruisers. All this time the harsh, dry cough of the large naval guns aboard nearby French cruisers boxed our ears and caused us to jump nervously. We saw the powder flash before we heard the blasts. We timed the interval between the smoke and the blast to kill time. We cheered the destroyers as they spewed their small shells directly into the face of the enemy, while their hulls almost scraped along the sandy bottom. We were chilled and wet from the cold drizzle, as we huddled together in those two and a half ton trucks for
RHINO FERRY DISCHARGING MEN AND SUPPLIES ON A NORMANDY BEACH
warmth and the confidence breeded by close proximity with others.1
German shells were dropping in the water around them. After dark the beach was lit up by the fire of the enemy's big guns and mortars. Toward midnight the ammunition men found themselves in the midst of some LST's that had come close to the shore to take off the wounded. The Rhino tied up alongside one of them for the night, just as the Luftwaffe came over and dropped a bomb whose flight the men could follow by its "eerie, fear-striking whistle"; the bomb fell into the water. The men from the Rhino scrambled up the landing net to the top deck of the LST, found some blankets, and fell asleep to the racket of the antiaircraft guns. So ended D-day for the first team of the 616th Ammunition Company.
The third team got ashore on D-day. The men left the transport Dorothea L. Dix on LCVP's, which looked something like iron bathtubs. They were faster than the barges but less steady; most of those aboard were desperately seasick. The front ramps were lowered about 1330 into waistdeep water. Scuffling ashore, the Ordnance troops saw dead and wounded men sprawled on the shingle, and found themselves lying side by side with infantrymen
of the 1st Division's 26th Infantry. Shell fragments were hitting all around them, cutting trousers and lifting helmets from heads and bodies from the ground. The Ordnance men crawled behind a wrecked LCI and LCT, edged farther up the beach behind stalled half-tracks, and at last reached shelter at the base of the bluff, leaving three wounded men, one fatally, behind them on the rock-strewn sand. Meanwhile, another boatload of twelve ammunition men followed troops of the 26th Infantry up the hill to the outskirts of Colleville, where they tried to set up an ammunition supply point, but they found things too hot for them and returned to the beach. All dug in for the night and tried to sleep through the falling flak and German bombs. Just before dawn a messenger told the men to prepare to advance to the front lines as replacements for infantry, but nothing came of this.
The men on the luckless Rhino got ashore next day and were able to help the third team unload the first munition-laden LCT to come in. Working under mortar fire, they carried 155-mm. shells across the wide stretch of shingle and stacked them among the tarpaulin-covered dead.2
Before the day was over, the commanding officer of the 616th located a 9-man party from 251st Ordnance Battalion headquarters, which had landed on the wrong beach. These men had a harrowing story to tell. Capt. Harold G. Ordeman had landed in a DUKW at E-1 Beach on D-day at 0830, when the beach was still under small arms fire as well as mortar and artillery fire. He had to pull four men from a burning craft and extinguish the flames from the clothing of a sailor who had been knocked unconscious by an explosion. Maj. Karl H. Zornig came in at 1230 but was wounded and had to be evacuated to England. The rest of the party, landing later in an LCT in the midst of an artillery barrage that effectively pinned the men down, spent the afternoon helping the wounded. Sometime during the day a few men of the 3466th Medium Automotive Maintenance Company got ashore in an LCVP, but the rest of the company and the bomb disposal squad were held offshore in the cumbersome Rhinos.3
In the western sector of OMAHA, where the 74th Ordnance Battalion was assigned to the 6th Engineer Special Brigade, even fewer Ordnance men got ashore, but some of them could claim the distinction of being the first Ordnance men to land in Normandy, since the first team of the 3565th Medium Automotive Maintenance Company hit the beach forty-five minutes before H-hour. Later in the day a small party of two officers and sixteen men drawn from the 618th Ammunition Company and the
27th Bomb Disposal Squad also landed in this sector. There was little they could do beyond helping the medics. When more ammunition men came in next day, the Engineers sent them to a point near Colleville to set up the first ammunition dump, with the help of ammunition men from the 5th Engineer Special Brigade. The dump planned at Vierville could not be opened for several days, and when it was opened it was so near the front lines that rounds were taken from their boxes at the dump and carried by hand to the artillery batteries.4
The second team of the 3565th Automotive Company got ashore D plus 1. The men had been trained mainly on beach recovery, and there was plenty of that type of work to do, for the beaches were strewn with flaming wrecks; but somehow in the confusion of the landing the company found itself counted as part of an infantry battalion. Marching inland with the infantrymen, the Ordnance men joined in the early mopping-up operations in the Vierville-Louvieres area and suffered heavy casualties.5
All along the 5-mile stretch of OMAHA, the invasion had been costly. The transports and LST's had been anchored too far offshore and in the strong current and high waves that followed the storm of 5 June, the small craft headed for the shore had been carried off course, so that hardly any units landed as planned. The Germans had good beach defenses, notably deadly underwater obstacles with mines attached, and they had a full infantry division whose presence had been missed by Allied intelligence. Nevertheless, the men on the beaches were pushing inland by the afternoon of D-day, climbing over the bluffs whenever they were stopped at the exits. Wave after wave of follow-up troops came in on succeeding days.
Among them were the battalions that Colonel Medaris had planned for the support of V Corps. Two companies of the 100th Ordnance Ammunition Battalion were ashore by early afternoon of 8 June, helping in the Engineer dumps until ASP 501 (later Depot 100) was set up a few days later at Formigny under the supervision of Colonel Ray, Medaris' ammunition officer, who had arrived at OMAHA early on D-day. The first job was sorting, for the ammunition had been unloaded so hastily that any effort to land it from the ships in separated types had been wasted. Trucks and jeeps drove up with the ammunition still in landing nets; men with cranes had simply picked up the nets, tossed them to the top of the pile, and pulled the nets from under. The result was a huge mass twenty feet high that included small arms ammunition, high explosives, blasting caps, chemical shells, and propellent charges. The Ordnance men set up a roller conveyor and began to dig their way through the pile. It was slow, dangerous work.6
Shortly after midnight on 11 June the headquarters of the 177th Ordnance Battalion, the First Army maintenance battalion attached to V Corps, was ashore at
AMMUNITION DUMP BEHIND OMAHA BEACH
Dog Green Beach. When the commanding officer was able to get in touch with the command posts of V Corps and First Army Ordnance, he learned that he had lost an entire medium automotive maintenance company, the 3422d, and twenty-seven enlisted men of Detachment B of the 526th Heavy Maintenance Company (Tank) when LST 1006 was sunk in the English Channel by a German torpedo in the early hours of 9 June. Eleven men and two officers of Detachment B had been rescued but were carried back to England, and all the company's equipment had gone down with the ship. Two medium maintenance companies had come ashore safely, along with Detachment A of the 526th. In spite of its misfortunes, the 526th Heavy Maintenance Company "performed a heroic task in refitting, repairing, and keeping in operation badly needed tanks," according to a Bronze Star citation presented to its commanding officer, Capt. Francis F. Poppenburg. On the day after the arrival of the 177th Battalion headquarters, 12 June, Colonel Medaris organized First Army Ordnance Service at OMAHA.7
Compared to the bloody landings on OMAHA Beach, the landings on UTAH Beach, on the Cotentin peninsula northwest of the Carentan estuary, were easy. The beach itself, nine miles long, was easier to cross. (Map 6) There was a gentle slope of wet sand, then a few yards of dry sand, and behind that a low concrete wall against a belt of dunes partly covered with beach grass. Inland were flooded pasture lands for a mile or two, crossed by causeways leading from the beach; to secure these causeways, two airborne divisions, the 101st and 82d, had been dropped beginning at 0115 on D-day.
The sea was calmer at UTAH than at OMAHA, beach obstacles were fewer and less formidable, and although artillery shelling continued for some time from the heights at the northern and southern end of the beaches and some damage was suffered from the Luftwaffe, the assault forces encountered nothing like the hail of enemy fire that had met the OMAHA landings. The Germans sent their remote-controlled miniature tanks to blow up the boats as they beached, but the little Goliaths were no more successful here than they had been at Anzio. By nightfall on D-day, most of the assault units of the 4th Division had reached their first objective on the main highway between Carentan and Ste.-Mère-Eglise, and dumps were quickly established in the dune area to relieve the congestion on the beach.
Ordnance troops assigned to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade got ashore early on D-day. At 1030 (H plus 4) an advance party of the 191st Ordnance Battalion and 4 officers and 56 men of the 625th Ammunition Company landed. The experienced team of the 625th had supported the engineers in Exercise TIGER.8 Next morning, when the first of the preloaded ammunition LCT's came in, the whole 625th was ashore and the first beach dump was set up about 600 yards behind Tare Green Beach. That afternoon a British destroyer brought in the commanding officer and some headquarters men of First Army's 101st Ammunition Battalion, who had been rescued from the USS Susan B. Anthony twenty-two miles offshore when she struck an enemy mine and sank. In the next few days, through the joint efforts of the 101st Ammunition Battalion and the 1st Engineer Special Brigade, the first inland dump was established near Audouville-la-Hubert. In spite of some enemy shelling and bombing, mostly at night, the dump was soon operating smoothly.9
Most of the ammunition was brought to the beach by DUKW's. Some care was taken to see that these vehicles did not become overworked, as they had been in the invasion of Sicily. At transfer points on the beach the loads, still in cargo nets, were lifted out by cranes and placed in trucks that took them to the dumps; the DUKW drivers had such definite orders not to drive inland that even General Bradley, who visited UTAH on 7 June, was unable to get a ride in one to VII Corps headquarters. The 1st Engineer Special Brigade's DUKW maintenance company, the 3497th
(veterans of Sicily) - did not land until D plus 3, but was not needed earlier.10
The first Ordnance maintenance company on UTAH (except for the division light maintenance companies) was First Army's 2d Medium Maintenance Company, assigned to the 4th Division. This was Ordnance's oldest company, with a history dating back to Château-Thierry and the Meuse-Argonne in World War I; it was soon given a chance to show that it could live up to its traditions. Landing on 8 June, the 2d looked like a combat team, for according to Medaris' plan for maintenance companies to carry as many replacement items as possible, it brought artillery in calibers from 40-mm. antiaircraft guns to 155-mm. howitzers and almost every type of combat and general purpose vehicle, each vehicle combat-loaded with ammunition, gas for 150 miles, and food for three days. While the men were unloading this formidable cargo from their Liberty ships into pitching LCT's and Rhinos, with an M4 tank swaying in midair, German planes swooped out of the low-hanging clouds and attacked them with bombs and machine guns. When the men got to the beach they met severe fire from a German shore battery that killed three men of the company and wounded seven so seriously that they had to be sent back to England.
Until 15 June, when units of the 184th Ordnance Battalion arrived, the 2d supported not only the 4th Infantry Division but also the 9th and 90th Infantry Divisions, the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions, and VII Corps troops. Its wreckers were almost immediately put to work clearing the littered causeways, and its replacement stocks were drawn on to reoutfit a complete battalion of the 90th Infantry Division that had lost all its equipment in the landings. The 2d Medium Maintenance Company set up the first Ordnance supply point on the Continent in two fields at St. Hubert, as well as the first Ordnance collecting point and medium maintenance shop. On 13 June, moving north on the heels of the 4th Infantry Division, the company opened a shop in a field only two and a half miles from Montebourg, where a hard battle was being fought. In the next field was a battalion of 155-mm. howitzers that made sleep almost impossible, but nobody had much time to sleep anyway, for the work went on long after dark by flashlight in blackout tents.11
Frustration in the Hedgerows
The two beachheads were joined on 13 June, the day after the 101st Airborne Division entered the town of Carentan. In the following two weeks VII Corps under General Collins sealed off the neck of the Cotentin peninsula and captured Cherbourg. General Bradley had scheduled a simultaneous attack east toward St. Lô by VIII Corps, committed on 15 June under Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton; but on 19 June OMAHA and UTAH Beaches were hit by a violent northeaster that continued for several days. Ammunition ships could not be unloaded, and it was Medaris' "unfortunate responsibility" to advise Bradley that
there was not enough ammunition to support two attacks. Bradley chose to postpone Middleton's attack.12
After the capture of Cherbourg, VII Corps, moving to the region south of Carentan, and VIII Corps, strung out across the Cotentin neck, began to prepare for the push to the highway that ran from Coutances to St. Lô along a ridge that roughly marked the end of the Normandy shoulder and the beginning of the main body of France. VII and VIII Corps would be aided on their left by XIX Corps (committed 13 June under Maj. Gen. Charles H. Corlett), separated from the VII Corps sector by the Carentan Canal. Left of XIX Corps, General Gerow's V Corps was in the relatively quiet part of the front that joined the British near Caumont. By the end of June, on the 40-mile U.S. front that stretched from the bulge at Caumont to the west Channel shore of the Cotentin, there were two airborne divisions (overdue for relief), nine infantry divisions, and two armored divisions. First Army now had more men than the combined forces of Patton and Montgomery in the Sicily Campaign.13
To provide Ordnance support for this huge force, Colonel Medaris had fourteen battalions in Normandy or en route. Behind each corps he positioned a battalion to furnish forward area support, operate a corps collecting point, and perform recovery and evacuation; within these forward battalions the medium maintenance companies had definite assignments to support specified divisions. Behind each forward battalion there was eventually to be an army support battalion to do fourth echelon work on weapons and vehicles, keep artillery and tanks in condition, and operate an army collecting point. The army area around Isigny was to receive a depot battalion for all Class II and IV supply, and near it a main army fourth echelon battalion and a battalion to inspect and recondition matériel in the hands of units relieved from combat. In the beach area was placed an army battalion to do antiaircraft maintenance, dispatch vehicles to the depot battalion, and generally perform liaison with the Engineer beach brigades. Of the two ammunition battalions, one was to operate Depot 101 and ASP'S for VII and VIII Corps, the other to operate Depot 100 and ASP's for V and XIX Corps.14
In the VII and VIII Corps sector, all battalions, including ammunition, came under the 224th Ordnance Base Group; in the V and XIX Corps sector, they came under the 52d Ordnance Group when it set up headquarters in Normandy at Blay on 28 June, the day after its arrival from England. With the 52d headquarters came Col. Nelson M. Lynde, Jr., who had been acting as Medaris' deputy in England. Lynde became the maintenance and supply officer of First Army Ordnance Section. A capable officer with long experience in the Mediterranean, he added considerable weight to Medaris' staff at the time the major operation southward from the beachheads began.15
The advance began early in July, and it
was evident from the first that terrain and weather were going to make the going painfully slow. First Army was in hedgerow country-orchards and pastures cut into tiny fields, each field fenced in by dense hedges of shrubs and small trees growing out of embankments up to ten feet high, often flanked by drainage ditches or sunken roads. Rain made lakes of the Cotentin marshes on the VII and VIII Corps fronts and turned even the high ground into sticky mud. And the weather prevented planes from giving close support.
The hedgerows could conceal anything from an enemy sniper to an antitank gun and could stop tanks, which, unable to climb the embankments without exposing their vulnerable underbellies, had to wait for openings to be blown with TNT. Hardly anywhere could a man see beyond the field ahead of him. It was frustrating, depressing warfare, almost like the fighting some of the officers had experienced on Guadalcanal. After a few days of it, General Bradley limited the objective considerably. The objective was now the highway between Lessay and St. Lô. Even so, it was not attained until 18 July, when St. Lô was captured. After seventeen days of heroic effort that cost some 40,000 casualties, First Army had not advanced more than seven miles at any point along the wide front.16
In the lonely skirmishes with a hidden enemy the troops had used a great deal of ammunition, "spraying the hedgerows" with machine gun bullets, one Ordnance officer noted, as though with a hose, and lobbing grenades and mortar shells over the embankments. They had also used a great many more smoke shells than had been expected. White phosphorus was useful to clean out nests of snipers, for it caused nasty burns and the Germans soon learned to dread it; and a good deal of smoke was used for signaling to aircraft. Watching the St. Lô attack, war correspondents were reminded of battlefields sketched in an illustrated history of the Civil War, with smoke lying in the valleys and hanging over the fields and little patches of woods.17
The reserves of infantry and artillery ammunition that had been accumulated during June were rapidly depleted.
On 14 July Bradley began to restrict the amount of these types that could be fired. This proved to be a satisfactory method of rationing, preferable to restricting the amount that was issued, but any kind of rationing was hated by the combat commanders and was naturally disheartening to Medaris and his ammunition officer, Colonel Ray, all the more so because they felt that they were not wholly to blame. They had predicted long before the invasion that such types as 57-mm. HE and 81mm. mortar ammunition would be needed in quantity, but both were still scarce. No 57-mm. HE except the little they could borrow from the British was on the Continent. In the case of the 81-mm., they suspected that it was in fact available in the holds of ships lying offshore in the Channel, but because ships' manifests were either inaccurate or missing altogether, they could not be sure.18
Medaris and Ray were on the right track. The continuing shortage of ammunition for the 81-mm. mortar-a common, standard item-puzzled Brig. Gen. Raymond G. Moses, 12th Army Group G-4, until an investigation revealed that the reason was not only a sudden increase in consumption but inaccurate records on the amount available. Hasty and indiscriminate unloading of ships offshore and the inability of the receivers to identify and thus report correctly on the huge stocks dumped on the beaches were problems that also affected supplies for weapons and vehicles, especially spare parts. But ammunition was First Army Ordnance's main concern in the early days in Normandy.19
Medaris always maintained that ammunition supply was simple if you knew all the time just how much you had and where it was. Unfortunately, this state was seldom attained. In the early stages of the European campaign, the forward ASP'S ran smoothly enough, but in the large depots in the rear (Depot 101 supplying VII and VIII Corps in the UTAH area and Depot 100 supplying V and XIX behind OMAHA, where large tonnages were arriving from the beaches night and day, in good and bad weather, the men were unable to report accurately on their stocks.
Neither the men in the First Army battalions nor the men in Advance Section battalions that began arriving to take over the depots in mid-July had had enough training in handling ammunition under such hard conditions, nor had they been trained in fighting fires. When a fire broke out at Depot 101 on the afternoon of 12 July, with a chain of explosions that rocked the dump and jumped across the hedgerows, setting off artillery shells and strewing burning phosphorus, the men fled and made little or no effort to fight it. The fire burned for almost four hours before Medaris could arrive with bulldozers, tankdozers, and Engineer troops to apply the dirt-throwing techniques that Ordnance had learned in the Mediterranean. It was not brought under control until 0200 of the next day, and then just short of an area containing 450 tons of TNT. As it was, several of the night shift ammunition
THE FIRE AT DEPOT 101 IN THE HEDGEROWS BEHIND UTAH BEACH
men sleeping in the bivouac area were killed and about 1,500 tons of ammunition were lost.20
Compared with the difficulty of ammunition supply, the maintenance burden in the hedgerow battles was not heavy. The forward medium maintenance companies were mainly concerned with the truckloads of muddy, rusting, sometimes bloodstained rifles that came to their small arms sections. In this congested area, little truck maintenance beyond the repair of battle damage was needed. The Ordnance units had time to improvise several field expedients to help the infantrymen break through the hedgerows. One successful effort provided a more sensitive fuze for the bazooka projectiles, thus enabling the weapon to blow gaps in the hedgerows; another modified the carbine to deliver brief bursts of full automatic fire, thereby increasing the quick reaction of infantry firepower in this type of fighting. In the rear, First Army's
TANK WITH HEDGEROW CUTTER AND SANDBAGS
heavy shop battalion, the 25th, manufactured a number of devices requested by the combat commanders-a sight for the rifle grenade launcher, special mounts for machine guns, a simple type of periscope for peering over the hedgerows, and, most important of all, an attachment to enable tanks to penetrate the hedgerows.21
The Hedgerow Cutters and the Cobra Breakthrough
By mid-July, budding inventors in the First Army had produced several devices to be attached to the front of a tank to dig into the hedgerows. The best was contributed by Sgt. Curtis G. Culin, Jr., of V Corps' 102d Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, a light tank unit. The contrivance itself, a strong iron fork with five straight tines, was developed by an officer
of the squadron's maintenance unit, Lt. Steve Litton, who used the angle iron bars or tetrahedrons that the Germans had emplaced off the beaches to rip the bottoms out of landing boats. At a demonstration attended by General Bradley and Colonel Medaris, the hedgerow cutter, or Rhinoceros, showed that it could slice through the matted roots in the embankments, enabling the tank to pass through the hedgerow instead of climbing it. The vulnerable underbelly of the tank was not exposed, and the nose was down, so that the guns were in a better firing position.22
The hedgerow cutter model came at a providential time, less than a week before the planned jump-off for Operation COBRA. COBRA was the breakthrough south of the Periers-St. Lô road by three VII Corps infantry divisions to open a gap through which a motorized infantry division was expected to dash fifteen miles southwest to Coutances, bottling up the Germans that were blocking the VIII Corps front; two armored divisions were to go on to Avranches and turn the corner into Brittany. Beyond the Périers-St. Lô road the armor had to cross a belt of hedgerow country-the hilly, true bocage-before it could get to the plains beyond; it was essential that the tanks get through the bocage quickly. Bradley ordered Medaris to put hedgerow cutters on as many COBRA tanks, light and medium, as possible. As it turned out, the jump-off had to be postponed for a week because poor weather conditions grounded the bombers; but there was still not much time.23
Medaris arranged a demonstration at his 25th Battalion headquarters. He organized a large crew of welders and skilled mechanics from his maintenance companies, pooling their facilities for mass production, and sent his tank transporters to the beaches to round up tetrahedrons. They were plentiful enough. The critical item was welding material. Medaris had requisitioned what seemed to the supply agencies enormous amounts of it during the preparations for OVERLORD. Experience had taught him that it would be needed by the service sections of his maintenance companies because they would have to do a great deal of manufacture whenever the inevitable crises in supply arose. With the backing of Colonel Wilson, the First Army G-4, he not only cleaned out all the welding rod in the depots in England, carrying to the Continent every pound he could, but he took action to increase the supply. His foresight was rewarded. When he flew back from Normandy to obtain enough welding rod to make the hedgerow cutters, it was available; emergency action would have been useless at this point. The evening Medaris left for England, a sudden and acute shortage of oxygen-acetylene cylinders was discovered. Though scarce in the United Kingdom, the cylinders were rounded up and delivered by air before breakfast next morning, an operation that was watched with amazement by Montgomery's chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Sir Francis de Guingand, who was visiting at Bradley's headquarters at the time. In forty-eight hours First Army Ordnance
men made nearly 300 hedgerow cutters, and in a week three out of every five tanks to be used in the breakthrough were equipped with them.24
Many of the tanks equipped with hedgerow cutters also carried on their fronts piles of sandbags or extra pieces of armor plate, for the crews knew that the tanks, which had been used up to now largely as mobile pillboxes, did not have armor thick enough to withstand the German guns. This had been discovered in North Africa. Also, neither the 75-mm. gun on most of the Shermans nor the 138 new 76-mm. guns (in reality 3-inch guns specially designed for tank use) that arrived in Normandy on 20 July would penetrate the frontal armor of the German Tigers and Panthers. The tankers could only hope that after the Shermans broke out of the bocage and got on the plains beyond, they could outmaneuver the German tanks, whose long guns made them hard to handle. For the artillerymen the picture was much brighter. When the COBRA breakthrough began on 25 July, First Army had some of the big pieces that had been so prized in Italy, eighteen 240-mm. howitzers and six 8-inch guns. They also had 48 of the new self-propelled 155-mm. gun, M12, the first self-propelled field gun sent overseas.25
Supplies and service troops had been pouring in over the beaches while the frustrating hedgerow battles were being fought. By 25 July there were 18 divisions of combat troops on the Continent (the two airborne divisions had been withdrawn). Though the build-up of service troops was not in proportion, it was still enough to enable Medaris to reinforce and improve his First Army Ordnance service. By the end of July he had three new group headquarters-the 51st, 71st, and 72d. The 51st relieved the 224th (released to ADSEC) as the forward organization paralleling the 52d Group; the 71st took over the ammunition battalions and the task of supervising all army ammunition operations, including Asp's and army depots; and the 72d assumed the operations in the main army area, commanding four battalions that ran the main shop and depots and did the inspection-and-refitting and evacuation work.26(Chart 4 )
The evacuation battalion, formed in mid-July, was a tribute to the usefulness of tank transporters, not only for hauling tanks but for moving all kinds of cumbersome supplies, like the tetrahedrons that were used in making the hedgerow cutters. The huge vehicles, with their long skeletonized trailers, were awkward and slow, and on the narrow, twisting roads of the hedgerow country were cursed by the convoys that piled up behind them; but they were invaluable. By pooling his three evacuation companies Medaris had a tremendous
A TANK TRANSPORTER HAULING AMMUNITION, FRANCE
amount of lift that could be used for a mass movement in an emergency. Normally the battalion brought heavy matériel back from collecting points, moved supplies between main shop and depot and out to the forward units, and in a pinch helped the forward collecting companies.27
The crews of the forward collecting companies, known as the "Diesel Boys" from their diesel-powered M-19 tank transporters, operated close to the front, often under fire, employing road patrols with wreckers to clear broken-down tanks and vehicles from main routes of advance under severe enemy bombardment. Ernie Pyle, who accompanied crewmen from the 974th Evacuation Company (Collecting) when they retrieved a German tank on the Carentan front one night in July, was impressed by their bravery and skill. He also noted their ability to make themselves comfortable back in the bivouac area, in tents strung out along the hedgerows. One driver even had a feather bed that he had got from a French family. "The average soldier couldn't carry a feather bed around with him, " commented Ernie, "but the driver of an M-19 could carry ten thousand feather beds and never know the difference."28
During the slow fighting in the hedgerows,
Colonel Medaris had been disturbed to find many Ordnance units settling down with a feeling of permanence, even in tents. To prepare them for the breakthrough that everybody hoped would open the door for a rapid advance across France, he frequently issued movement orders without warning and (it seemed to the troops) without reason. These moves jarred the men out of fixed habits and helped them to regain the flexibility of thought and action that were going to be needed after St. Lô.29
Expansion After Cobra: Third Army
The COBRA breakthrough, aided by one of the greatest saturation bombings of the war, was a brilliant success. In the last five days of July, First Army captured not only Coutances but Avranches, the gateway from Normandy into central France. General Eisenhower had directed on 25 July that US ground troops on the Continent be regrouped into the First and Third Armies, the two armies to be controlled by 12th Army Group, which would be commanded by General Bradley. On 1 August Bradley went to 12th Army Group, leaving First Army (V, VII, and XIX Corps) under the command of General Hodges. Third Army (VIII, XV, and XX Corps) was given to General Patton, who had been impatiently waiting on the Cotentin peninsula since early July.30
Third Army Ordnance men began arriving on the Continent the second week in July. Crossing beaches under a night sky made brilliant by streaming, crisscrossing antiaircraft tracers and the wink of the high-altitude go-mm. shells, they could see in the distance a "red booming sky," where the hedgerow battles were being fought on a front only a few miles away. As they proceeded inland to Bricquebec, the Third Army concentration area near Cherbourg, they saw evidences of what the invasion had cost-"heaps of rubble where houses had once been, things which had once been men, piles of shell cases, scattered equipment, crashed gliders," the cemetery at Ste.Mère-Eglise filling up with white crosses. They found the ruins of Montebourg and Valognes still hot. At Bricquebec, waiting in the apple orchards and hedgerows for Third Army to go into action, the ammunition men collected abandoned US and enemy ammunition, and the maintenance men made hedgerow cutters for Patton's tanks, obtaining welding material through the good offices of the Navy, which not only supplied tons of welding rod and many bottles of oxygen and acetylene from its own stocks, but procured quantities of these scarce articles for Third Army in England, delivering them at Cherbourg.31
By 1 August there were about 10,000 men in Third Army Ordnance Service, including the men that were transferred from First Army (most of them supporting VIII Corps). Those assigned but not yet arrived would bring the number to around 15,000. Colonel Nixon, Patton's
Ordnance officer, had organized them in England under the now familiar group system, the forward maintenance and supply battalions (each battalion supporting a corps) and the intermediate battalions (supporting the forward battalions as well as corps and army troops) under a forward group; the fourth echelon battalions under a rear group; and the ammunition battalions under an ammunition group.32
Because of personnel shortages in the United States and the higher priority accorded First Army and ADSEC, Nixon had been forced to improvise. He had only two group headquarters, the 69th controlling the forward and intermediate battalions and the 10th controlling the rear shops and depots, and both had been obtained by converting battalion headquarters already in the theater into group headquarters. He had no ammunition group headquarters until September, when the 82d was organized; in the meantime, the 313th Ammunition Battalion acted as a group headquarters. By mid-May, after First Army and ADSEC had been satisfied, all types of Ordnance units were scarce and the War Department had informed the theater that the units expected in the next three months would be fewer than had been anticipated because they were not available in the United States. Nixon's most serious shortages were in depot, evacuation, heavy tank maintenance, and ammunition companies, and ammunition battalion headquarters. A few maintenance companies were furnished to him from FECOMZ, but he had to supplement his single ammunition battalion headquarters by converting three maintenance battalion headquarters to ammunition.33
An even more serious cause for concern was supply. Again the reason was low priority. In England in the spring of 1944 First Army's requirements had so drained the theater's stocks that Third Army Ordnance Service had only about 50 percent of its basic load, and had no reserves of major items. The planners intended to fill its needs from the huge stocks being shipped from the United States, but congestion at the British ports made this impossible. During May, tonnage made available to Ordnance amounted to only 31 percent of that expected. The commodity-loaded ships that were to go directly to the Continent would probably relieve the situation, but there was little hope from this quarter until late in the summer. In the meantime, it was doubtful whether Third Army would receive more than "15 percent of its T/E vehicles before it went into combat.34
As a result of the "poor relation" position of Third Army in England, many of its Ordnance units arrived on the Continent in July with shortages not only in their basic load of spare parts but in such
essentials as shop trucks and tools; the 79th Battalion at Bricquebec, for example, had only between 60 and 70 percent of the tools it needed. These shortages were relieved to a great extent by the efforts of a representative that Nixon had left behind in Cheltenham, who arranged for most of the scarce articles to be brought to the Continent by units arriving later. Again the evacuation companies with their big tank transporters came in handy for hauling supplies. Several truck companies were used to deliver spare parts, not only for the Third Army depot and maintenance companies, but for the 2d French Armored Division attached to Third Army. This division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Jacques Leclerc and composed in part of the famous Leclerc Column that had fought in Tripolitania and Tunisia, was to be committed after the breakout, an earlier commitment than was at first planned. To expedite its equipment, as well as to speed the supply of tools and equipment of his own Ordnance units, Nixon made two trips to England in July.35
When Third Army became operational on 1 August, its Ordnance supply units had little stock other than organically carried replacement items, spare parts, and ammunition. But there was the probability that additional stocks could be obtained from ADSEC. Brig. Gen. James H. Stratton, COMZ G-4, had established a policy that all First Army stocks in COMZ depots on the Continent that were excess to First Army's needs would be released at once to Third Army. On supplies requested by both armies, urgent command action would be taken, and allocation between the two armies would be made by 12th Army Group, which had just set up headquarters in a bombed-out orphanage building at Périers. On the whole, except for a few shortages, the situation was considered fairly good at the beginning of August. Huge stocks were piled under tarpaulins on the beaches, which were now able to handle 30,000 long tons a day. Cherbourg had been opened on 19 July; and high hopes existed that Brest and other Brittany ports-prime objectives in the OVERLORD planning-would soon be in American hands.36
The task of capturing Brest was given to Patton and Patton generated confidence. Bradley reported to General Eisenhower that he and his men felt "pretty cocky" about the future.37 After the dank battles in the hedgerows, the southward sweep of the armies was exhilarating. First Army turned southeastward toward Vire to drive back the enemy's center and hold open the corridor at Avranches. Third Army drove southwest into Brittany and made brilliant progress. By 4 August, Patton had captured Rennes and had armored units as far as Loudeac, in the center of the peninsula. The weather turned warm and clear, so that air support was always possible; the enemy seemed shattered in this region, and the French Maquis were rising.
SHELLS STACKED BY TYPE TO FACILITATE ISSUE, FRANCE
Things looked so good that General Montgomery, who until 1 September, when SHAEF arrived on the Continent, was to have operational control of all Allied forces, made a major change in the tactical plan. Using First Army as a holding force, he ordered Third Army to leave only one Corps, the VIII, to clear Brittany and to make its main effort in a wide sweep eastward from Rennes toward Laval and Angers. Eisenhower reported to Marshall "Patton has the marching wing . . . ."38