THE 610TH TANK DESTROYER BATTALION
CAPTAIN ROY T. MCGRANN
The boats on which the Battalion was loaded pulled onto the beach at dusk the evening of the 31st of July. The beach had been cleared by this time but the hulks of many ships were seen in the water, the effects of gunfire could still be seen on shore, and the water was still filled with debris from the original landings. Preparations were made to disembark and everything set except the tide, which had not as yet reached its ebb. The scene was very peaceful with not even an air alert to disturb the serenity. Low tide was reached at about 0200 on the 1st of August and the boats began discharging. The first person ashore was Major Jeffery, from an LCT. The vehicles were taken onto the beach, lined up and a blackout move begun at once. Some confusion resulted for no one seemed to know who gave the orders to move the convoy or where it was going but they all tagged along over the road and soon pulled into a large field where the miscellany of vehicles was straightened out and the Battalion assigned a field of about 10 acres in which to assemble. At first it was believed that everyone had disembarked but when "B" Company did not arrive it was learned that their ship had been stopped from discharging it's cargo by a large depression in the beach where the ship had stopped. As a result they remained on board during the night and waited for the next tide, joining the rest of the Battalion at noon the following day.
Signs of fighting were visible wherever one looked. What few French girls were seen bore the evidence in frocks made from parachutes, while the edges of the fields were all filled with the mute evidence of previous occupation. In the same field as the Battalion, was the skeleton of an ammunition truck, which had received a direct hit and exploded. Coming in on the same convoy with the Battalion were elements of the 2nd French Armored Division. No clearance could be obtained and it was then learned that the Battalion would move as soon as the French division had cleared the road. The outfit remained there for the next night and then a movement order was received sending the Battalion to La Valdecie, France. The movement was begun the following morning, passing through several historic ruined towns, among which were St. Mere Eglise, Montebourg, Valogne, and Bricquebec, to the small village where the bivouac was set up. The above named towns had received the brunt of the invasion attack and were a complete ruin. A temporary camp was soon set up and the Battalion staff set about scouring the country to dig out all the information possible concerning the employment of the Battalion and the assignments and administrative channels to be used. It was discovered that we belonged to the Third Army and that was about all that was definite. The attachment varied from day to day between the XX and the XII US Corps. One of the first things that the Colonel ordered was getting rid of the surplus equipment, which was being carried. A large tent was erected in the apple orchard and duffle bags and hand luggage were stored here.
No definite information had been gleaned, but on the 7th of August orders were suddenly received from Maj. Walker of the AT section of XII Corps to move the Battalion to the vicinity of Naftal. The order was received at 1800 hours and the Battalion was to move, at 1830. To understand this situation clearly it must be remembered that General Patton had broken out of the Cherbourg peninsula and his fast columns were deep in the Brest peninsula at this time. The Germans had launched a counter attack in the vicinity of Mortain to cut off the neck of the Third Army advance. The information was that two Panzer divisions were attacking at this point in the direction of Granville and the Battalion was ordered down to help meet this attack. This attack was finally stopped by the magnificent stand of the 30th Inf. Division at Mortain and the tanks were reported destroyed by the RAF flying their new rocket equipped Typhoons. This information was not known at that time and the Battalion moved out as scheduled leaving a guard with the baggage.
The first part of the trip was a normal blackout move but the route was soon changed owing to a priority disagreement between the First and Third Army and the column rerouted by way of Avranches. The head of the column approached this town at about midnight on the evening of the 7th of August. To the South the sky was brilliantly illuminated and tracer shells of all patterns arched their patterns into nothingness. The road suddenly dipped into the town and the column found itself in the middle of Avranches with what seemed to be the entire German Luftwaffe trying to knock out the bridge in the center of the town. The Rcn Platoon of Lt. Wingerter was leading and behind them came the CP group. Right at the bridge a road turned to the left but the column continued across the bridge and on up the hill on the far side. At the instant the CP was on the bridge the first bomb of the stick exploded. This cut the column in two but the leading portion continued up the hill and around a corner where there was some defilade, and also room to get to the side of the road. The vehicles had hardly screeched to a stop when the sound of many spades and pick mattocks was heard digging furiously. No one had to be told to dig a hole that night. In the column that had been stopped to the rear, the message center vehicle had slipped into a freshly smoking bomb crater and blocked the road. A bulldozer soon helped to pull the vehicle back on the road but not before the column had been strafed a few times. In one of these flurries Sgt. Simone came, into contact with the ground, which, unfortunately, was covered with a little more than dirt. These French put their manure piles in the darndest places.
As soon as the first column had stopped Lt. Wingerter had returned to the bridge to find out any information from the MP who stayed there throughout the attack. The road led to the left before crossing the bridge and before the column returned from on the hill, the Engineers had repaired the craters and the road was passable. The column was reformed though not in it's original order and continued on toward Brecy. Here the column turned South and was soon stopped on a high bridge outside the town. While the column sat here a two-motored German bomber soared not 200 feet overhead, but luckily was looking for the heavy artillery located in the vicinity and paid no attention to the column. Not a light showed and not a gun was fired until the plane had safely passed overhead when, in the release of the tension, some gunner with his hand on a .30 machine gun, sent a whole belt of tracer streaking skyward. The Corps' liaison officer met the column on the road and gave the change in the orders. The Battalion was now ordered to the vicinity of Craon, France, where it was to meet the 80th Infantry Division. It was discovered that in the bombing at Avranches, the Battalion had suffered its first battle casualty when T/5 Bird was killed. The Battalion had also suffered three casualties and lost a 1/4-ton and a motorcycle. Orders from the XX Corps then moved the outfit to Beau Soleil (15 miles East of Laval), where the 80th Division was now located. The Battalion departed from Craon at 1000 and on the way again tangled with the French Armored Division at Chateau Gontier. They had been stopped at a bombed bridge when one of their recovery vehicles was jammed at the bridge approach. The stay in the town was delightful, however, as the French townspeople walked up and down the column passing out their own brand of cognac.
The rest of the trip was uneventful and the outfit occupied a bivouac in the field South of the village of Vaiges. It was here that the first prisoners were taken when the FFI turned over three Germans of the 17th Reserve Panzer Division. Two companies were attached to Regimental Combat Teams of the division and moved out to attack the towns of Evron and Ste Suzanne. The attacks were uneventful. The remainder of the Battalion was attached to the third combat team and late the night of the 10th of August, moved out for the town of Chasseraille. The trip was made in blackout along an extremely dark road. Word had been received that there were five Panther tanks in the vicinity and the guns were disposed to furnish a perimeter defense but nothing happened. The next day the companies and the Battalion CP moved North to the vicinity of Rouez. A company set up for indirect fire while the other companies were still with the combat teams. This bivouac of the CP will be remembered for the horse trough in the corner of the field where an extremely cold bath was taken by most all personnel. Rouez was located just South of Sille Le Guillame or more familiarly called "Silly William." This town was taken by the division against extremely light resistance.
A big attack was in the making with the division going in pursuit of the rapidly withdrawing enemy. The Battalion was broken into three columns advancing over three different routes. The attack jumped off as planned with the only delays being occasioned by mines and blown bridges. The East column, with which the CP moved, gradually worked its way North and began running into elements of the 90th Division. The delays were many and occasioned some road jams that would cause a maneuver umpire to lose his mind. Just North and West of Alencon, the Battalion entered a deep and rugged forest through which a fight had just raged. It was the 2nd French Armored, which had fought through here, and elements of that division now began to double the column. At one place a shot sounded off in the woods and every gun in the French column turned toward it. Luckily no more shots sounded or the Battalion would have been blown off the road by the muzzle blast. The cause of the congestion soon resolved itself. The East column had advanced more rapidly than was expected and the troops ahead had not yet cleared. The column was ordered to turn around when the chance presented itself, and advancing to a crossroads just West of Sees, turned and retraced its steps through the wood.
The next morning word was received to return to the Division CP at Villaine La Juhel. From here the division moved to a bivouac South of Anon. There were still isolated groups of enemy in the vicinity who were causing no end of trouble by re-mining roads every night after they had been cleared. The Battalion did not stay here long but moved to a separate bivouac in the vicinity of Evron, which had been taken not so many clays before by the division. An alert for movement was issued with the expectation that the movement would be to the vicinity of Chateau-dun to join the spearhead of the advancing Third Army. All companies were prepared and the Battalion placed on a six-hour alert. This mission was then canceled and the mission was given of moving to Rennes to join in the Brest campaign. Still no movement was made. The infantry, who were to ride on the half-tracks, arrived and everything again made ready. Finally orders were received to move, but this time back up to Alencon, whence the Battalion had just come. It was an uneventful march along the old route and past the same dead Germans who were there the previous week. The bivouac that first night was located at Mortree.
The battle of the Argentan-Falaise gap began to resolve itself. The British had at long last broken out of Caen while the American First Army had moved out of Vire and were advancing to the Northeast and North. The Third Army was located on the East flank of the resultant pocket. Huge stocks of German supplies, men and equipment were thus encircled by the Allied armies. The Division moved its CP to Almeneches on the 17th of August, with the Battalion accompanying it, and remained there throughout the rest of the battle. The congestion in the enemy sector furnished an ideal artillery target and the next few days were filled with the noise of the shells searching out the enemy columns. Verbal orders were issued on the 18th for the attack. The initial assault was to be made by the 318th Infantry, to which C Company of the 610th was attached. A Company reinforced the fires of the division artillery while B Company was in reserve. At this time, the Division was attached to the 1st Provisional Corps and fought with the 90th Inf. Div. on the right and the 2nd French on the left. The escape route of the Germans at this time was the narrow strip running between Falaise and Argentan, and word was received on the 18th that the Polish Brigade fighting with the British had reached Trun, which considerably narrowed the corridor. The initial attacking forces of the 80th did not get far before being pinned down by heavy automatic weapons and tank fire. The advance was mostly limited to the main highway leading East from Argentan.
The attack was resumed on the 19th and the 318th made slight progress until 1735 that night when they were pinned down again. At this time the 317th passed through the 318th and launched an assault, being accompanied by C Company. The attack held up at 2300 that night and prepared to continue in the morning. Early on the morning of the 19th Colonel Herold had taken the CP group forward to Hill 171. A delay developed at a ford crossing the small stream to the South of the Argentan highway, where some elements of B Company had succeeded in crossing. The Colonel went to the ford and remained there throughout the greater portion of the day, assisting in getting the tanks and other elements across. This position was exposed to direct observation from the enemy held hill to the immediate front and some fire was directed at the crossing throughout the day. At about 2030 hours a round of 88 mm hit in the midst of the CP group, wounding Lt. Col. Herold, Major Greenhaw, T/Sgt. Senger, S/Sgt. Dreissel, and the radio operator, T/5 Lingo. Capt. Schadt, with a portion of his medical detachment, was in the next field and took immediate care of the wounded, having them evacuated within five minutes. The Colonel died that night at 0130 hours in the evacuation hospital. During the day's action, "B" Company established a record by being the first to report destroying enemy tanks. They reported three Mk VI tanks destroyed by direct fire while C Company accounted for two 88 mm guns of unspecified type. A Company, firing with the artillery had registered in on a house, which was discovered to be occupied by enemy troops, so after targeting in, they proceeded to fire for effect on the target. All together, "A" Company expended 700 rounds in harassing missions.
After the first day's action, the 1st Provisional Corps had given way to the V Corps, First Army, and the remainder of the action was fought under their control. The 3rd Platoon of C Company engaged enemy tanks to their front early on the morning of the 20th of August and reported four destroyed at 0835 hours. C Company moved with the 317th to its objective N.E. of Argentan and commanded all roads leading into the town. B Company, with the 318th Inf., occupied the towns of Crennes and Argentan. Major Jeffery assumed command of the Battalion upon the death of Lt. Col. Herold.
The peak of the battle was over and at 1800 hours, on the 21st of August, the command over the area occupied by the 80th Infantry Division north of The Argentan-Exmes road, passed to the British. After a day of rest the Commanding General of the Division ordered a maneuver to be held over the ground that had been fought over, using the same situation and orders as had existed. This exercise was to promote the coordination between the various combat arms. On the reorganization of the Battalion Staff, Captain Kantola became the Executive Officer, Captain Stewart assumed the job of Plans and Operations formerly held by Major Greenhaw while Captain McGrann remained as Intelligence Officer.
The Moselle River
The Battalion was relieved of attachment to the V Corps, First Army, on the 26th of August and attached to the VII Corps, Third Army. Orders were received to move to a new assembly area in the vicinity of St. Flavy, France, and the outfit moved out at 1445 hours. This was a lovely ride through the most beautiful part of France. The natives along the route cheered the columns all the way and arms began to ache from returning the waves and salutations along the way. The briefest stop was the signal for much bartering for bread, cognac, and wine, and as the convoy moved the French enthusiastically tossed apples, tomatoes, etc., into the vehicles. A steel helmet was a necessity, for a hard apple thrown at a speeding vehicle can be a deadly missile. The route followed, led South of the main Le Mans highway and paralleled that highway to the East until Orleans was reached bright and early on Sunday morning. The road was very poorly marked and once on that ride, when the head of the column had taken off on a tangent, a bit of excitement was caused when a listening radio picked up a message in unmistakable German. The radio had a range of only five miles so it was felt wise to determine exactly where the column was heading. It was some weeks later that a force of 20,000 Germans surrendered to a lieutenant of the 83rd Division in this same town of Orleans. The town was not badly damaged and after a brief stop for breakfast the column proceeded on toward Sens. Arriving there in the early afternoon a brief halt was made to refuel and receive directions and the column again took off for its destination. The Battalion pulled into the area assigned just East of St. Flavy at 1900 hours on the 27th of August. The trip was 347 miles and was accomplished in about 28 hours.
A Field Order had been received on the road, which placed one Company in support of the 317th and 318th Inf. At this time the 319th was on detached service in Chartres. The Battalion, accompanying the Division, moved forward and crossed the Seine River at Mery Sur Seine. The bridges were blown out but fords were easily constructed and not many mines were encountered. The CP of the Battalion was located at Villesebeus on the 28th of August. While pulling into the area Sgt. Jull started to signal to some German planes overhead when he inadvertently stepped on an electric lantern and couldn't get the switch turned off but nothing happened except a short lecture from the Division billeting officer on the inadvisability of flashing lights at German planes.
The division was now disposed about Chalons Sur Marne and orders were issued to attack that place on the 29th of August. The Battalion had been knocking out some machine guns and 88mm guns and it was fully expected that some trouble might be encountered in crossing the Marne River. Early on the afternoon of the 29th, word was received that the town had fallen at 0900 that morning. An interesting sidelight on this battle was revealed in some papers captured by the division much later. These stated that the 5th Parachute Division was being reactivated here and that the division staff was out on a reconnaissance preparatory to occupying a defensive position. The German staff was hit by the advance elements of the 80th division and wiped out. This was the first encounter with the 5th Para division. The Battalion was to oppose them on three more occasions until they finally were knocked out for good in the Ardennes. "A" Company was successful in capturing a train which had just pulled into the yards at the town and was filled with PX rations for the German troops. A train full of parachutes was also captured here, and believing them valuable, were turned over to Third Army. It was afterwards discovered that practically all personnel of Third Army headquarters succeeded in getting one of the chutes to be sent home as war trophies. Chalons Sur Marne was about the first large town that had been liberated with the help of the Battalion and some of the Battalion reconnaissance were the first through the town. As soon as any type of Armor entered the town the French considered that the Army had come to stay and really began to celebrate. They first tried to shake the hand of every soldier, kiss them, and some times pass out wine and cognac but when they realized that there was a job still to be done, they, with the help of the FFI, began; pounding up and dealing sharp justice to remaining troops and collaborators. As the CP group moved through the town, to the town of Lo Veluve, the column was strafed by three ME 109's but without damage. The planes were found shortly afterwards on a nearby field. Evidently a last flight for the "Fuehrer."
The companies continued moving with their respective combat commands to the East. The CP was alerted for movement but numerous delays occurred and the group did not get under way until 0400 hours on the 31st of August. The division was advancing East on three routes with the mission of seizing Bar-Le-Duc and Commercy and prepared to push on and take St. Mihiel. The companies moved out on schedule while the CP followed much later. The column passed through two towns which had just been sacked by SS troopers in one of which a small boy had been killed in the nave of the village church. The CP closed into Laheycourt at 0400 hours on September 1st. The stop was not long for the next day elements of the division crossed the Meuse River at Commercy. The CP moved up and occupied a bivouac just to the East of the town. The 4th Armored Division was scattered all over the fields in the vicinity. It was also here that the first rain since the Battalion landed in France arrived. Most everyone was caught unprepared sleeping in the open as they had been accustomed.
The movement slowed down somewhat during the next few days. C Company had one platoon (Lt. Atkinson's) take over the town of St. Mihiel on the 2nd of September, while the CP moved into the woods at Girauvoisin on the 3rd. On the 4th, C Company reconnoitered for crossings of the Moselle River between Pont A Mousson and Dieuolard while B Company with the 319th Inf. were located at Bouvron with the mission of capturing Nancy.
The field day was over and some hard, tough fighting lay ahead. Considering the rapidity of the advance during the past few weeks it seemed like a miracle that so much ground was gained. The supply lines were long and gasoline had become the big problem. The Third Army had finally run out of it and the advance was stopped just short of the Moselle River. The Battalion, thanks to the efforts of Corporal Bruff, the Gas non-com, had been resupplied with German gasoline and had full tanks. This was the German proclaimed "miracle in the west" when the Third Army was stopped at this time. If the Army could have kept going it was doubtful if it could have been stopped short of the Rhine River. The Battalion CP kept edging forward with that of the division and was located in Limonville on the 4th of September. B Company had one gun destroyed and three men wounded in the vicinity of Toul. Another section of the 2nd Platoon was caught in an artillery barrage on the 6th of September and T/5 Palmieri and Lt. Harry B. Watkins were killed, while seven men were wounded and one gun and half-track were destroyed. "A" Company reported firing 55 rds HE, accounting for at least six machineguns and one OP.
On the morning of the 8th of September, a counterattack was launched against the positions of the 3rd Platoon of "A" Company, a mile and one-half South of Saizerais, on the West bank of the Moselle River. The infantry had fallen back from the positions, failing to warn the gun crews, which suddenly received heavy mortar and machine gun fire. Not having time to couple up the guns the platoon was forced to fall back and abandon their guns. The attack was successfully stopped about a kilometer back but the "Jerries" were trying to use the 3" guns, so one was knocked out by our own artillery fire while the 702nd Tank Battalion knocked out the others. Two of the half-tracks were recovered and repaired but the enemy got away with three jeeps and one entire gun crew was reported missing. The 2nd platoon of "A" Company had, in the meantime, observed some enemy activity on the opposite hill. Quite a large number of enemy personnel were gathered around and appeared to be working out a school problem. The platoon held its fire until the maximum number of people had gathered inside and then fired a volley. A few enemy were observed staggering out of the building so ten more rounds were dropped in, completely neutralizing the position. "C" Company was located on a bald knob opposite Pont A Mousson, over-watching the attempted crossing at this point. The infantry had made one attempt to cross in assault boats and had succeeded in getting a company across. The rest of the assault force was driven back and the company that had crossed was lost. The 3rd platoon of "B" Company had done some firing against Fort Villey Le Sec, located just East of Toul. The results of the fire were disappointing in that the shells made scarcely an impression on the heavy steel cupola of the fort. The Germans had elected to defend the fort from the outside or it would have been quite difficult to dislodge them. During the past week, the maintenance crews of the Battalion had succeeded in changing all of the tracks on the vehicles without loss of combat efficiency of any unit.
On September 11th, "C" Company spent the day preparing gun positions on the high ground S.E. of Jezainville, preparatory to covering the crossing of the infantry. The attack across the Moselle River succeeded on September 12th. The crossing was covered by smoke laid down by the mortars and assault guns of the 702nd Tank Battalion. "A" and "C" Companies shuttled by platoons across the river and occupied the towns of Landremont and Millery. The Battalion CP was located in a wood three miles South of Mamey amidst the ruins of the last war's positions. The enemy launched a counterattack against the 80th Division bridgehead at 0400 hours on September 13th. The attack hit the 3rd Platoon of "C" Company in the town of Ste. Genevieve. The infantry pulled back but the 3rd Platoon maintained their positions against the tank and infantry assault by destroying two of the tanks and killing numerous enemy personnel. Lieutenant Richard Merrill was wounded in the action and died of his wounds on October 5th. Captain Duchossois, on reporting the action to the CP, stated that the platoon would maintain its position and requested that some infantry be brought up to help them. In the same counterattack tanks also advanced against the roadblock established by the 1st Platoon of "A" Company south of Loisy. The tanks were heard approaching but it was too dark to identify them so the platoon held its fire. At this juncture the tank shot flares outlining the positions and attacked them with machine gun fire. The platoon knocked out one of the tanks but was forced to pull out. The tanks continued on down the highway leading South, where they were taken under fire by the 3rd Platoon of '"A" Company who destroyed two of them. During the action the Battalion lost three men killed, fourteen wounded and had one 1 1/2-ton truck and one 1/4-ton truck destroyed, but had accounted for five Mk IV tanks and four machine guns. In addition to the loss sustained by the enemy, they had also failed to obtain their objective, which was the destruction of the bridgehead. The division was in quite a turmoil over the action as it had lost all communication with the forward troops and the only remaining link was the radio network of the 610th.
The enemy again launched a counterattack on the 15th of September, this time against Mousson Hill. This was on the East Side of the Moselle River and was a large hill overlooking the town of Pont A Mousson. The 3rd Platoon of "A" Company was in this vicinity and was subjected to a terrific barrage of machine gun, mortar, and small arms fire. The 1st Section advanced with the infantry to the top of the hill but the 2nd Section was unable to do so. Destroying two of their guns, the halftracks and some of the crews made a dash for the top of the hill and were successful. The remainder of the personnel were forced to cross the river to escape. They were successful in finding some boats with which to cross and helped evacuate the wounded infantry, though suffering some casualties.
Another counterattack was launched against Ste. Genevieve at 0400 hours. The Jerries were reacting strongly to the crossing of the Moselle. The enemy infantry advanced through the early morning haze and fog against "C" Company's 3rd Platoon. The Company Headquarters Section destroyed two of the tanks with bazooka fire while two more were destroyed with the three-inch guns. Captain Duchossois of "C" Company was seriously wounded in this action. Another tank attack was launched at 1600 hours against the bridgehead. The column of tanks was observed approaching and dispositions to meet it were made. The battalions' positions were ideal to meet the attack and eight of the attacking tanks were destroyed before the artillery got nervous and dispersed the rest of the column with its fire. "B" Company meanwhile had been advancing through the Foret De Haye toward the outskirts of Nancy. They had been relieved of this mission and rejoined the action across the Moselle, going into position in the vicinity of Loisy to back up the Antitank defense. During the day's action, the Battalion lost one man killed, three wounded and had lost two guns but had succeeded in knocking out 12 enemy tanks. Major Walker, the Anti-tank officer of XII Corps, was a visitor at the Battalion CP that day and was evidently much impressed with the activity. During the lulls in the activity he made some mention of the new Tank Destroyers armed with the 90mm gun, but no information could be gained as to when they would arrive in the Theatre or who was to receive them.
The counterattacks against the Battalions' positions continued on the 16th, this time against "B" Company at Loisy. The attack was repulsed with five tanks destroyed at a cost of one gun damaged and five men wounded. The Battalion CP had moved down to the riverbank just North of Dieuolard on the 18th. During the last three days the 3rd Platoon of "A" Company was still marooned atop Mousson Hill and was being supplied with ammunition, food, and medicine by Liaison planes and a few missions of P-47's which flew in belly tanks of supplies. The Battalion CP moved to Jezainville on the 19th while the platoons were busily engaged in knocking out mortar's, machine guns, and personnel. The bridgehead was now firmly secured and the counterattacks had tapered of, though there was still stiff fighting going on.
On September 25th the Battalion was suddenly notified that it was to be relieved by the 808th TD Battalion. The 610th was pulling out of action to be reconverted to a self-propelled battalion and was to be armed with the new 90 mm gun, the M36. While exchanging positions with the 808th, the 3rd Platoon of "C" Company received some mortar fire and two men were wounded. The Battalion was relieved of attachment to the 80th Infantry Division on the 25th of September and its days as a towed tank destroyer battalion were over. During its combat action as a towed battalion it had destroyed 31 enemy tanks, five vehicles, eight artillery pieces, seven OP's and had captured 85 prisoners. On the other side of the ledger the Battalion had lost 16 men killed, 35 wounded, six guns destroyed, and had lost five half-tracks, one 1 1/2-ton and four 1/4-ton trucks. It had fired from its three-inch guns 1,341 rds of HE, 245 rds APC, and 16 rds of smoke.
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