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Baptism Of War-Argentan

 

The 80th Infantry Division G-2 (Intelligence) After Action Report gives a good overall picture of the situation from August 3 to August 13:

 

"The concentration of the 80th Infantry Division in France at St. Jores from 3 August to 7 August 1944, occurred simultaneously with the break-through at Avranches and the attack on the Brittany Peninsula.  The rapidity and strength of the break-through had temporarily thrown the Germans on the U.S. Army front into confusion. 

 

Field Marshall Rommel had been reported wounded and Von Kluge had been made Commander in Chief in the West.  The enemy had committed at that time approximately forty-five divisions on the Normandy front and had managed to build up a mobile reserve of five panzer divisions.  This reserve, together with remnants of the units swept aside at Avranches, counter-attacked on 6 August from Mortain in a desperate effort to cut the Third U.S. Army supply lines in the vicinity of Avranches.  It was to meet this counter-attack that the 80th Division received its first combat orders on 7 August 1944.

 

During this period, the Division intelligence agencies made final preparations for functioning in combat.  The German counter-attack having been stopped in the vicinity of Mortain, the 80th Division, temporarily motorized, moved south during the night of 8-9 August.  During this movement, the Division received its baptismal fire in Avranches and St. Hilaire Du Harcourt, which were bombed by the enemy as the columns passed through during the night.  At St. Hilaire, the first prisoner of war was taken when a German aviator surrendered to Lt. Lloyd C. Bloomer, 'A' Battery, 314th Field Artillery Battalion. 

 

Closing into an assembly area, the division was immediately committed from Laval to Le Mans.  Le Mans had been liberated early that day and the extended supply line was vulnerable to attack by elements of the 708th German Division from the vicinity of Sille Le Guillaume.

 

First contact with the enemy was made on the 9th of August when the 317th and 318th  Infantry Regiments moved north and liberated Evron and St. Suzanne and received fire from occasional snipers.  The enemy situation north of the Le Mans - Laval highway was obscure when the division moved into the area.  Information gained from the 90th Infantry Division in the vicinity of Le Mans and from civilians established the fact that the 708th Infantry Division was operating in this sector.  P.W. taken on the 10th from the 748th Regiment of the 708th Infantry Division confirmed this fact.  Elements of the 1st Sicherung Regiment, formerly charged with the defense of Paris as part of the 325th Sicherung Regiment were also rushed to this area to try and stem the American advance.  The Division advance northward, however, was opposed only by small disorganized groups and by minefields and demolitions.  On 11 August, Sille Le Guillaume was occupied without opposition.  On 13 August, Villaines was seized with only light opposition from the enemy who by this time had withdrawn completely to the North to escape encirclement."     

 

From the 80th Division monthly report:

 

"From the 14th through the 17th of August, the 80th Division was out of contact with the enemy.  During this period, the Germans were fighting a desperate rearguard action to save remnants of the 7th German Army from encirclement.  German strong points were holding at Argentan-Falaise to prevent the closing of the trap and the 9th SS Panzer Division was trying to hold the eastward attack of the U.S. and British forces.  The 80th  Division was ordered to move on Argentan to eliminate that German strong point and to close the Argentan-Falaise Gap on 17 August." 

 

The Hendricks diary for the 15th reads: 

 

"St. Gemmes - we departed Amne at 8:00 A.M., all of our equipment is in very good condition.  Again we are on the move.  In the wooded area we are approaching, the F.F.I. (French Partisans) engaged the enemy.  There were many signs of a large scale battle.  Along the road, two M-4's were still smoking.  One Tiger tank lay in ruins with its long 88(mm gun) pointing skyward.  Strewn along the road lay German equipment of all kinds.  As we travel along, we are getting closer to the torn town of Alencon. 

 

In the days to come, we did not know we were going to help close the Falaise Gap, and to trap the dying German 7th Army.  We arrived in this town at 12:15 P.M.  we are going to spend the night in this area."

 

The August 17th S-2 Journal entry reads:

 

"Weather cleared up.  The sun is shining.  New overlay received at 6:00am.  We are to go north of Argentan at Conde, and await Division.  10:00am-"H-hour" announced as 1:19pm.  1:19pm-Captain Nordstrom and I lead Recon. and "D" Company into the new area.  6:00pm-arrive, and Company Commander meeting called.  Move out to new area with Division H.Q..  8:00pm-contacted “B" Company and Recon., and gave them the situation.  Back to H.Q. at 3:00am.

 

The Hendricks diary reported: 

 

“The morning is warm.  After a good night's sleep we are full of pep and ready to work once more.  We find everything is in tip top shape, and we are making final preparations for the coming attack on the town of Argentan.  By this time we realize the importance of closing the Falaise Gap and trapping the German 7th Army.  With the British Army tightening the ring, coming around Caen and our Army coming slightly northeast, the gap will be closed.  What a day this will be when the Tommies and the Doughboys meet.  Capt. Stover has just pulled into the area.  As always, Tom McCabe has slammed on the brakes wearing off some more hard to get rubber."

 

From the time (Aug. 6) the 702nd landed in France, until this seventeenth day of August, one officer and four enlisted men were listed as injured by the A.G.O. Battalion History.  The injured list included 1st Lt. Sam L. Levin, Pvt. Johnnie R. Vitelli, Jr., Sgt. Wm. H. Sparks, T/5 Alex Csala and Sgt. Daniel D. Jones, Jr.  No men were listed as killed or missing in action. 

 

For this day, the 80th Division G-3 report stated:

 

"Field Message #1 changed concentration area in the Field Order #5 to march bivouac in the vicinity of Alencon.  Field Order #6 issued 6:00 P.M. ordered 80th Division (minus Combat Team 319) to attack at 8:00 A.M. on 18 August and seize the high ground (Hill 213) north of Argentan.  Combat Team 318 was to by-pass Argentan and seize the Division Objective, attack Argentan from the Northeast with one battalion and be prepared to continue attack in the direction of Trun.  This order was issued in compliance with a directive of the V Corps of the First Army, to which this Division was assigned for this action.  In conjunction with other forces, the 80th Division seized Argentan and participated in the closing of the Argentan-Falaise Gap and in the final destruction of the German Seventh Army."

 

Col. Miller recalls: 

 

"On the evening of the 17th, 'B' Company's Commander, Captain Richard E. Stover, pulled into the assembly area and drew us together and informed us to be ready to go into battle for Argentan on the 18th of August."  Cpl. "Buck" Weaver remembers that S/Sgt. Frank L. "Pappy" Ream was instrumental in Capt. Stover's decision to use the Third Platoon first, in the upcoming attack.  "Pappy" considered it an honor that his platoon was the first out of the entire 702nd Tank Battalion to go into battle." 

 

Knowing of my Uncle's immense pride in the men that he had taken from boyhood to manhood, this writer has no doubt that "Pappy" would have done his level best to give his Third Platoon what he felt was the distinction of going into battle first.  He could not know however, of the tragedy that this "honor" would bring. 

 

The Hendricks diary closed for the day with: 

 

"As the day draws to a close and we crunch on 'K' rations, we are ready for the coming battle of Argentan tomorrow.  Our first large scale attack."

 

 

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