In July of 1944, the 78th Infantry Division, a National Guard Division from Kansas, was activated in response to the imminent Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France. The Division was sent to Europe to train for combat, and was placed under the command of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. The Division was dispatched to the Westwall (the West Wall of the Siegfried Line) to defend it against a possible counter-attack by the German army.
At the end of World War II, the soldiers of the 79th Infantry Division returned home to a hero’s welcome. The division was made up of African Americans from the South who fought in Italy, France, Germany and Austria. The men had been trained as infantrymen, and in the fall of 1945, they were sent back to the US to be demobilized.
Task Force latter-day soldier, Jake Abramowitz, went to his local library and dug up some archived newspapers. He then spent hours combing through the articles, looking for anything about the 79th Division and the Night Blitzkrieg. Finally, he found something: a blog that chronicled the 79th’s actions a little over a year after its activation. The website was named “Night Blitzkrieg” and, with a little digging, Abramowitz learned the following:During World War II, the 79th Infantry Brigade fought its way out of the war. infantry division of the U.S. Army through one Nazi stronghold after another.
At the end of World War I, the U.S. Army instructed its various units to choose a distinctive shoulder insignia (officially called a shoulder sleeve insignia) to represent the unit’s history. The relatively new 79th Infantry Division has chosen the blue and white Lorraine Cross, a famous double cross used in Europe since the 12th century. The century is here. Ever since René II, Duke of Lorraine, placed the cross on his flag before his victory at the Battle of Nancy in 1477, it has been the symbol of an often besieged region in the northeast of France. After France ceded the province to Germany during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the Lorraine Cross became the symbol of France’s relentless pursuit to regain the lost territory.
During the Meso-Argonne offensive in the fall of 1917, the 79th Infantry Regiment conducted a large number of operations. Division led the American Expeditionary Force offensive against the German-held Montfaucon (Falcon Mountain) fortress, a strategic key to the vital Meso-Argonne sector of the Western Front. The defenses of Montfaucon were so strong that the Germans proudly called it a little Gibraltar. The French generals said it would take three months to break through the enemy line at this point. The 79 untested, inadequately trained. The division needed only two days to take Montfaucon and lost 1200 men. A new shoulder emblem – a white Lorraine cross on a dark blue background – was a tribute to the division’s sacrifices.
A quarter century later, the newly formed 79th Division would be the first. The Division returned to France to help the country reclaim the territories it had lost to Germany, this time to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi forces. And his famous insignia is not just for the fighters of the 79th. Division: The Free French Forces led by General Charles de Gaulle in exile and the underground resistance fighters in occupied France also adopted the Lorraine Cross as their symbol. Resistance leader Jean Moulin wore a double-breasted cloth when he was captured and tortured to death by Gestapo commander Nicholas (Klaus) Barbee – the notorious Butcher of Lyon – in 1943.
Few, if any, American soldiers and service members of the 79th Infantry Division were killed. The members of the 79th Division knew of Moulin’s ultimate sacrifice when they joined the Division, but they were all aware that they and the other Allies had the difficult task of liberating France and the rest of Europe from the Nazis, as the First 79th Division had done. Division did at Montfaucon in 1918. It would be an unwelcome but necessary return home.
Soldiers of the 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Division, picturing the attack on a German fort near La Haye-du-Puy, France, for an army photographer. (National Archives)
The 79th. The division was formed on the 15th. Formed at Camp Pickett, a former Civilian Conservation Corps base near Blackstone, Virginia, in June 1942 with a core of regular Army troops from the 4th Army. Major General Ira T. Wyche, a native of Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point (class of 1911) and a professional officer in the Army, assumed command of the division. The son of a Methodist minister, Wyche served on the Texas front and then went to France with the American Expeditionary Army during World War I, where he fought with the 60th Field Artillery. After the war, Wyche worked primarily as an artillery commander and instructor before graduating from the U.S. Army and General Staff College in March 1942 with the rank of major general. Wyche, whose main focus was on supplies and transportation, was determined not to repeat the mistake of the AEF, the 79th. Division in the battle at Montfaucon in 1918 without proper training and unit cohesion. After the new division was activated at Camp Pickett, Wyche made sure his men were trained for field operations in the Tennessee Maneuver Area, desert warfare at Camp Laguna, Arizona, and winter combat at Camp Phillips, Kansas. The training lasted 22 months.
Major General Ira T. Wyeth, commander of the 79th Airborne Division. Division. (Bangor Public Library)
The first soldiers of the 79th to go overseas were part of a platoon of military police sent to Africa after the American landing in Tunisia during Operation Torch. The parliamentarians were responsible for escorting German prisoners from Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s famous Afrika Korps to prison camps in the United States. A future member of the 79th. Private Roy Morris of Nashville, Tennessee, saw German POWs during basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, in late 1943. Morris had been drafted earlier that year and was living with his wife and young daughter in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. At Fort Hood, Morris and his comrades saw tall, blond, tanned Afrika Korps prisoners doing heavy gymnastics all day in the Texas sun. Do we have to fight these guys? they wondered aloud. Of course, when the 79th landed on the beaches of Normandy eight days after D-Day, the division faced not the Afrika Korps but the equally hardened soldiers of the Wehrmacht, the regular German army. Each of these tasks will be challenging.
While the Allies were working on Operation Overlord, a plan to invade and liberate Nazi-controlled France in late 1943 and early 1944, units of the 79th Airborne Division arrived in the country. Camp Miles Standish Division near Staunton, Massachusetts, in late March and early April 1944 aboard the RMS Queen Mary, a seized luxury ship converted to a warship, bound for Great Britain. The division landed separately in Glasgow, Scotland, and Liverpool, England. Stationed near Cheshire, England, the division made thorough preparations for landing and attacking the soon-needed fortified positions in Normandy, on the far west coast of France.
As D-Day approached, the 79th Airborne moved into the area… Division from the north to the south of England and concentrated at Tiverton in Devonshire. There, Wyche and his senior officers used their extensive experience in training, logistics and supply to best prepare the division for the landing. Wyche was assisted by Brigadier Generals Frank W. Greer, George D. Wahl, and John S. Winn, Jr. as well as Colonel Kramer Thomas, Wyche’s chief of staff, and Lieutenant Colonels Adolph C. Dormann, John A. Gloriod, Charles F. O’Riordan, Harry L. Sievers, and Herbert Sponholz. There was a lot to do and not much time to do it.
Shortly after D-Day, on 6 June, the 79th Division moved to the landing ports of Plymouth, Falmouth and Southampton. Wyche issued a memo that was read to each member of the unit:
Now this division is on its way to the battlefield. After two years of training, I consider the division adequately prepared for battle, and I am confident that it will achieve its goals with flying colors. To increase your effectiveness, I want each of you to be imbued with the hatred of the Huns, so that you enter the battlefield delirious with rage. You have to think like a hunter trying to exterminate pests and predators. I want each of you to make a decision, and that is to behave in the first battle in such a way that Bochet and all our allies benefit from the actions of the veterans of the 79th. Division will be impressed. May each of you have a good transition. I’ll be on the beach to welcome you.
Officially the 79th Division: one of the four divisions of the VIIth American Corps commanded by Major General J. W. H. W. and of the American Corps commanded by Major General G. W. H. Lawton Collins. The vanguard of the division landed on Utah Beach six days after D-Day, the main force two days later. As Private Morris remembers, the beach was still warm, with German shelters still bombing the Americans as they landed. During one of the bombing raids, engineer Harry Ribiski of the 315th Infantry Regiment in Morris was hit by shrapnel while still aboard the landing craft. This was the division’s first loss in World War II. Wyche keeps his word and is ready to meet his men at Utah Beach, an indescribable stretch of nine miles of sand dunes and seashore centered on the Nazi bastion of Varreville Dune. This landing point was at the western end of the Allied line that extended southwest from the beaches of Omaha, Gold, Juneau and Sword.
Crossing France (14 June – 29 August 1944). This card, the first of a series of four, represents the 79th. Division, which landed in Normandy and advanced through France until they crossed the Seine at Mant-Gassicourt in August. (David Ramsey Historical Map Collection)
Despite heavy losses, the Allied landings on D-Day were successful mainly because they took place where the Germans least expected. The beaches of Normandy were much further from England than the traditional Channel crossing between Dover and Calais. However, the landing could have been prevented if Hitler had listened to Rommel, his commanding officer in Normandy. Rommel, a tank commander by trade, wanted to station his elite tank divisions in Normandy, but Hitler refused. Weather also played an important role in the success of D-Day, as a terrible storm the night before had lulled German commanders, including Rommel, into a false sense of security. Allied meteorologists correctly predicted that the storm would strike at dawn on the 6th. June would take a break.
Once the 79th landed on Utah Beach, it joined three other infantry divisions of the VIIth Corps, the 4th, 9th and 90th. The VII. The Corps was given the crucial task of taking the Cherbourg Peninsula (also known as the Cotentin Peninsula) and the deep-water port city of Cherbourg. It was essential for the Allies to control this port, which was to become the main supply and reinforcement point for Allied ships crossing the Atlantic from the United States. Wyche, who was in charge of the 79th, made contact with the deputy commander of the 4th. Division, a man with a familiar name and face: Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Like his legendary father, young Roosevelt is a tough soldier. At 56, he became the oldest Allied soldier to land on D-Day. He landed on Utah Beach and personally relocated troops who had accidentally landed 2,000 yards south of the planned landing zone. It was a crucial decision on the battlefield, as Roosevelt’s brief directive proves: We’re starting a war here. He would later be convicted for his actions at Utah Beach on the 6th. June is awarded the Medal of Honor.
The 79th. Division was initially in reserve, while the 4th, 9th and 90th Divisions were in reserve. Division advanced westward from the beach to the peninsula. The capture of the Carentan crossroads by the 101st Airborne Division on the 9th. June enabled the Allies to form an unbroken front from west to east and allowed the VII Corps to advance up the peninsula without fear of a German counterattack from behind. On the fourth. Division, immediately led by Roosevelt, advanced along the Quinville beach road to Montebourg. The 90. Division occupied the left flank of the 4th and 9th. Division moves to Barneville, on the western shore of the peninsula. On the 18th. June took the 9. Barneville Division. American troops effectively drew a line across the peninsula, isolating Cherbourg from reinforcements. Hitler, more clumsy than ever at playing general, rejected Rommel’s recommendation that German troops retreat to the ramparts of Cherbourg. Instead, Hitler ordered the defenders to form a new line south of the city. Rommel, loath to accept Hitler’s intervention and perhaps looking for a scapegoat, dismissed General Wilhelm Farmbacher, the new commander of LXXXIV Corps, for advancing too slowly toward the new defenses. Farmbacher lasted only three days under his command.
On the same day, the 79th Division ordered the 90th Division to take over the center of the American line and launch a three-pronged attack on Cherbourg. This was the division’s first combat mission, and a difficult one at that. The terrain in front of them was particularly difficult: North of the Valognier-Barneville line the country was mostly hilly, south flat and marshy, crossed by small streams and divided into innumerable fields and gardens by ancient hills of earth, stone and scrub, which Morris simply called the accursed hedges. The Germans, having long mastered the art of defense, reinforced the natural earthen fortifications with dozens of concrete bunkers and well-placed anti-tank guns. They also flooded the plain, so that the attackers had to wade through knee-deep water and mud.
Captain William H. Hooper of the 314th. Regiment and some of his men lead a column of German prisoners from Cherbourg, France. (National Archives)
Each hedge represented its own miniature battle, which the division’s official historian later compared to a game of checkers – one square at a time. Wyche had trained his men carefully, but he had not prepared them to overcome such obstacles. In the field, they had to resort to a new tactic of barrage and aerial fire, and to an improvised weapon called a tank dozer – a medium-sized Sherman M4A1 tank converted with a flat, shovel-shaped attachment to clear hedges. Storming the French hedges to shoot down German defenders holed up there like rodents is totally un-American, one soldier complained.
The original purpose of the 79. The division was located on the high ground west and northwest of the village of Walonne which overlooked the highway between Walonne and Cherbourg and blocked access to the roads on that side of Walonne. The hour zero was set at 5 a.m. on the 19th. June set. The 313th and 315th Regiments were to attack, while the 314th. The regiment remained in reserve. The 313th jumped first, accompanied by the armor and chemical companies and supported by the 310th and 311st. Field Artillery Battalion. It’s like maneuvering in Tennessee – but with real ammo, one officer joked. Nobody laughed. The initial sporadic enemy resistance quickly turned into heavy and concentrated fire, but by 2pm the 1st Battalion had reached the end of the line. The battalion reached its objective a few kilometres northwest of Valognes, in the dense woods of Bois de la Brick.
The 315. The regiment had a more difficult task. The first contact with the enemy was at Flottenanville. A German counterattack at 3 p.m. delayed the advance by four hours, after which it was repulsed with heavy losses. On the right, at Liegent, enemy snipers also slowed the advance and the three battalions of the regiment were deployed to clear the area. By the evening, all units had achieved their first day’s objectives, most ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, Wyche reconsidered his decision to call up the 314th. Regiment in reserve and ordered it to assemble as well. The second one. The battalion of the regiment was moved by motor and sent to the village of Croix Jacob, two miles north of Negreville, which it reached at 4.15 a.m. the next morning.
U.S. Marines clean up the last pockets of resistance in Cherbourg. (Keystone-France/Getty Images)
The 313th departed at 6 a.m. The regiment left Brick Wood, where it had been encamped during the night, and began to advance north along the Valognes-Cherbourg road to Echelon. The regiment advanced so quickly that it overran the German positions at Hau de Long and captured four tanks and an 88 mm gun before the retreating enemy troops could destroy them. The regiment continued to advance until heavy artillery fire stopped it at Delasse.
The 314. Regiment began its offensive at the same time, moving parallel to the main road and capturing eight more German tanks. At 6 p.m. the advanced troops reached Tollewast, where they came across a number of enemy bunkers and halted for the night. Meanwhile, the 315th regiment spent the day clearing the area west of Valognes that the leading regiments had bypassed, overcoming two German forts and capturing several prisoners and several 4-inch guns. The regiment camped for the night at Howe de Long’s assembly point.
Two days later, the three American divisions were within attacking distance of Cherbourg. Lieutenant General Karl-Wilhelm von Schlieben, the new commander of the German garrison, had 21,000 men at his disposal, but many of them were sailors hastily conscripted from docked ships or unscrupulous conscripts from labor units. The defenders were short of food, fuel, and ammunition, and the few supplies the Luftwaffe had been able to throw at the city were mostly useless things, like iron crosses meant to boost the morale of the garrison. Schlieben refused the demand for surrender and began to wreak havoc in the city.
At this point in the war, Schlieben had an almost unbroken list of failures on his command resume, having lost entire armored divisions on the Eastern Front at Stalingrad and Kursk. He was sent to western France and given command of the 709th Static Infantry Division, an inferior unit composed of already wounded soldiers, older men with pre-existing medical conditions, conscripts, and Russian prisoners of war who had agreed to fight for the Germans to escape the terrible conditions of the eastern POW camps. The division first encountered American troops landing on Utah Beach and airborne troops further west on the peninsula before being withdrawn to Cherbourg. The defenders have the – initially not insignificant – advantage of having spent the last four months strengthening the defences around the port city.
On the night of the 20th to the 21st. In June, Wyche ordered scouts from the 79th. Battalion to conduct a thorough reconnaissance of the outer defenses of Cherbourg. Lee McCardell, war correspondent for the Baltimore Sun newspaper, accompanied the troops and describes what they found:
The bunkers in the first German line of defense, which the 79. stormed during the Cherbourg offensive, were basically inner fortresses with steel and reinforced concrete walls four to five feet thick. The forts were built into the Norman hills so that their parapets were level with the surrounding ground. They were heavily armed with mortars, machine guns and 88 mm rifles, the latter being the Germans’ most powerful artillery weapon.
The forts were surrounded by a network of smaller defenses, bunkers, redoubts, firing pits, flooded and well-formed mortar emplacements that provided 360 degrees of freedom of movement, observation posts, and other structures that enabled the defenders to apply deadly crossfire from all sides.
The access roads were further protected by minefields, barbed wire and anti-tank trenches at least 20 feet wide and deep at the top. Each fort was connected to another fort, and all were connected to the main fort by a system of deep, camouflaged trenches and underground tunnels. The forts and bunkers were equipped with periscopes. The phones are connected to all defenses.
These forts were entered from behind, below ground level, by double doors of armoured steel plates that closed off the defensive garrisons behind. The forts were electrically lit and automatically ventilated.
The Germans replied to the reconnaissance attempt with small arms and artillery fire, shelling the 314th Regiment’s assembly area and inflicting some casualties. During the night, the 315th Brigade on the outskirts of Saint-Martin-le-Garde, and its covering troops were moved to the north of Le Bourg. Plans for the attack were formalized the next day and troops received additional destruction equipment that would be needed for the attack on the outer defenses of Cherbourg. Repeatedly radio broadcasts were sent into the city, calling on the Germans to surrender and setting an ultimatum for noon on the 22nd. June. Schlieben again ignored all suggestions and 40 minutes after the ultimatum expired, the American Air Force began a magnificent 80-minute aerial bombardment of enemy positions near Cherbourg. The men of the 79th retreated a thousand yards to escape the American bombardment and fighter machine gun fire, but inevitably came under friendly fire. As soon as the aerial bombardment ended at 2 p.m., the 304th Engineer Battalion began to work under enemy fire, digging through hedges and building new roads alongside existing ones.
Meanwhile, the 313rd Regiment jumped to the right side of the division, but soon encountered active enemy bunkers. One battalion went around the enemy position and attacked it from behind. The second battalion, led by a platoon of heavy machine guns, advanced to the main objective, Junction 177, arriving there at 2:05. The 314. Regiment advances to the fortified village of Tollevast on the left, while the 315th Regiment advances to the fortified village of Tollevast on the right. Regiment operates on the extreme left flank, contact with the 9th Regiment.
During the next two days, the 79th advanced. The Brigade advanced towards Cherbourg, a gruelling march with stops and starts that inevitably slowed each time the various regiments met German opposition. Even in late June, the nights were cold and the fighters descended into the trenches and slept when they could, which was not often because the enemy artillery was constantly pounding through the night. Correspondent McCardell painted a vivid picture of these people:
The Joes looked like they could take a Saturday bath anywhere – not necessarily in Cherbourg. The ones with beards looked like burlesque hobos. Everyone was getting a little tired. Many Joes kept their shoes on for a week. His legs hurt. He would give ten dollars for a pair of clean ten-cent socks. Besides the canned rations and hand grenades that filled every pocket of his dirty, muddy uniform, he carried only what he had on him, plus a canteen, a shovel, an ammunition belt, an extra shoulder strap, a knife, a bayonet, and his rifle.
The final key to the German defences for Cherbourg was the Fort du Roul, which stood on a ridge running northwest to southeast in front of the town. The fortress was built at the end of the 18th century. It was built in the 18th century and considerably expanded between 1853 and 1857 by the French Emperor Napoleon III. The French reinforced the fortifications before the Germans occupied them, and Germany’s own engineering organization, Crack Todt, improved them. Todt’s organization was a quasi-civilian operation led by Albert Speer, the Nazi Minister of Armaments and Munitions. The company was known for its use of forced labor and, in addition to building much of the German road network, was involved in the construction of all concentration camps during the war.
On the morning of June 25, Allied aircraft bombed the fort before the men of the 79th Division could reach it. The division has begun its assault. The 313. The regiment moved to the outskirts of the city, while the 314th stormed the fort itself. Companies E and F in 2. The battalions attacked the east wall of the fort before being cornered by heavy machine gun fire from the slope below the top. Corporal John D. Kelly of E Company volunteered to blow up the fort with 15 pounds of TNT strapped to a 3-foot load. Kelly went up the ramp and fired the first shot, which proved ineffective. He returned with a second charge which destroyed the enemy machine gun tips, then climbed up the slope a third time to place a charge against the rear entrance. Then he threw hand grenades into the ruins and forced the survivors to surrender. For his bravery, Kelly was awarded the Division’s first Medal of Honour during World War II – unfortunately posthumously, as he was fatally wounded in France in November of that year.
The second member of the 314th regiment, First Lieutenant Carlos C. Ogden of Company K, 3rd Battalion, performed heroic deeds at Fort du Roul, for which he also received the Medal of Honor. When the company was blocked by an 88mm gun emplacement and the commander was wounded, Ogden attached a grenade launcher to his rifle and began climbing up the slope to the fort. We were tied up and about to be killed, Ogden later recalled, and I thought I might as well be killed by riding forward or backward. Two bullets went through his helmet, grazed his head and knocked him down. He was holding a grenade with the pin out, and although he broke his wrist in the fall, he managed to keep the grenade’s handle in place. He neutralized the 88th with a machine gun grenade and silenced two machine guns with hand grenades. Despite leg and head injuries, a concussion and damaged eardrums, Ogden refused medical treatment, rallied the company and kept it moving.
The defenders of Fort du Roul surrendered at 9:48 pm that night. Schlieben, his sub-commander, Vice Admiral Walter Henneke, and 800 other officers and soldiers raised their hands, although the German general refused to issue a general cease-fire. His persistence led to another day of pointless street fighting near Cherbourg before the 313th and 315th were defeated. Regiment, with a little last-minute help from British Unit No. 30 Command in the eastern suburbs, captured the city on 26 June and captured a total of 6,000 German soldiers as well as large quantities of equipment. The report of the British Secret Service after the surrender gives an unflattering picture of Schlieben: With his rosy complexion, round boyish face, huge stature and awkward gait, he makes the impression of an oversized, mentally underdeveloped schoolboy who intimidates his subordinates and slurs his superiors. He’s got more bluff than guts. The English were particularly offended that Schlieben did not know whether Scotland was hilly or flat. The general’s final humiliation came when a truck carrying his bags and personal effects collided with another truck and the jubilant soldiers handed him a gold braid and decorated parade uniform strewn along the side of the road.
We took that block of stone step by step, said one of the soldiers about Roul’s fort, and each step was a grunt. Colonel Bernard B. McMahon, multilingual commander of the 315th Infantry Regiment. Regiment, uses a mobile public address system to urge the remaining Germans to surrender. Many of them succeeded, but others, hidden in secondary underground bunkers under the forts, were accidentally destroyed by American sappers who destroyed the structures. Meanwhile, the people of Cherbourg crowded into the littered streets to embrace their liberators. Cherbourg was the first French town of any size to be liberated by the Allies during the war, and the irresistible salute of the men wearing the insignia of the Cross of Lorraine on the shoulders of their marching jackets will often be repeated as they cross France. But in Cherbourg, the party was short-lived. The 27th. June 4th. Division entered Cherbourg to garrison, while the 79th Division was in Cherbourg to garrison. General Ted Roosevelt became acting governor of the city and joined his division as it crossed Normandy. Roosevelt will be on the 11th. Juli dies of a heart attack in his sleep. Two months later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented the general’s widow with a posthumous Medal of Honor in recognition of her service at Utah Beach.
Marines and salvage crews immediately went to work cleaning and rebuilding the damaged port of Cherbourg. On 16 July the first new load of supplies – about 17,000 tons of rations and equipment – was unloaded. At the end of the war, Cherbourg passed nearly three million tons of goods, as well as 130,210 new combat soldiers.
In their first fight, the 79th showed. Division an admirable achievement. Against a numerically superior (but sometimes qualitatively inferior) enemy force that held a heavily fortified city on commanding heights, the division fought its way through the flooded country to victory. It was, according to Wyche, a brilliant start, but he knew, more than anyone, that it was only the beginning. There are still 240 days of fighting and thousands of casualties to be mourned. For the 79th, as the traditional anthem says, there were literally many more rivers to cross.
The 79th. Division took Cherbourg, but the Germans still had troops scattered across the Carentan peninsula, from Denneville on the extreme west flank east through Saint-Lo to Carentan. To join the other advancing Allies and avoid getting stuck in a bottleneck on the peninsula itself, Wyche led the division on the 3rd. July in motion. According to the plan, the 314th Regiment crossed a tributary of the Douve River and captured an enemy fort called Hill 121. At the same time the 315th attacked further west towards Hill 84 near Mongardon. The 313. The brigade was in reserve.
Once again the soldiers of the division faced a stubborn and desperate enemy who held back the hedges and defied all roads to the south. The ubiquitous 88mm artillery was supplemented by entrenched tanks and deadly snipers. At zero, on the 3rd of July at 5.30 a.m., the regiments left for their objectives in a cold drizzle. By noon the two regiments, supported by artillery and tanks, had taken their initial objectives, despite strong opposition. Hitler himself ordered the Germans in the hedgerows, many of whom had been bypassed in the lightning-filled advance to Cherbourg, to fight to the last man. Not all of them survived, but these suicide bombers fiercely resisted the American advance. At the end of the day both regiments were halfway to their final destination. The offensive was halted for a day so that General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, and his deputy, Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, could visit the division’s command post at Le Fosse while the American artillery serenaded the enemy in a solemn Fourth of July celebration.
The next morning the two vanguard regiments advanced again, and the 313rd. The regiment joined them. The attack is increasingly focused on the enemy fortress of La Haye-du-Puy. The Germans fought fiercely for every inch, but Lieutenant Colonel James B. Cannonball Kraft’s 312th Artillery Battalion fired what one observer called the best high precision artillery, clearing the way for the 314th Battalion. Cannonball Kraft’s 312nd Advanced Artillery Battalion fired what one observer called the best high precision artillery of the war, leading the way for the 314th Battalion. Battalion of Lt. Col. Olin E. Olin. Tiger Teague, who was advancing to the outskirts of the city. Enemy observers in the cathedral tower watched too long, and Kraft’s gunners sent a shell directly at the spire. When the soldiers then entered the square, they found the bodies of the bell tower guards scattered across the cobblestones.
To and from Belgium (31 August – 25 October 1944). After crossing the Seine, the 79th race began. The division made a rapid advance into Belgium and then across France, during 127 days of relentless fighting. (David Ramsey Historical Map Collection)
After capturing Hill 84 (and meeting for the first time the glorious troops of the 2nd Schutzstaffel [SS] Division), the men of the 315th were supported by the 313rd, who helped repel a fierce counterattack on the headland the Germans called Bloody Hill. Meanwhile, the 28th Infantry Regiment of 8. The 314th Division. Regiment and two tank battalions for the final advance to La Haye-du-Puy. For nearly six hours, the Americans fought house to house with the German defenders, who eventually retreated to the city’s train station for the final battle. According to the soldiers, the paint on the many German-language prohibition signs at the station was still wet. Finally, Teague said the city is part of Unit 79. Lieutenant. Arch B. Hoge Jr. a native of Tennessee, has been flying a small Confederate flag in town, the same flag that his uncle flew over French country during World War I and that his grandfather flew during the Civil War. The 1st Battalion of the 314th was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its participation in the battle.
While taking out enemy kamikazes on Hill 84, the men of the 315th saw the presence of the enemy. The regiment saw its divisional commander in action with its own eyes. During one of his daily visits to the front, Wyche finds a train stuck on a mountainside. Wyche, repeatedly exposed to enemy fire, helped the men regroup and led them through two hedges to destroy the German position on the ridge. Wyche even managed to help evacuate a wounded infantry scout from the battlefield.
Small, muscular, and edgy, Wyche was popular with the men, who called him Papa Wyche because of his daily checks and his obvious concern for their welfare. The staff flag, two gold stars on a red background, was usually located at or near the front. Wyche, an experienced horseman who had begun his career in the service of horses, now rode into battle in a jeep, his handsome, serious face familiar to all the soldiers under his command. They appreciated his willingness to lead from the front, and he responded to their disposition by paying attention to every detail of his command. This included establishing a special group of experienced officers, NCOs and soldiers in the front line to train replacements before going into battle. Other units quickly adopted Wyche’s innovative training system.
The roads south and east of La Haye-du-Puy were still blocked by German defenders and heavily undermined. The 79th would need 11 days to clear the peninsula. During this operation the division suffered 2,930 casualties. The Germans have retreated to the southern bank of the River Ai. The bad weather prevented Allied aircraft from approaching and allowed the enemy to reinforce their positions with artillery and 88mm mortars and blow up strategic bridges across the river. On one of the dynamite bridges, Private Frederick F. Richardson of Company F, 315th Regiment, personally repulsed two German counterattacks over a period of two days and two nights. Richardson placed his Browning in the window of a stone house 300 yards from the bridge and opened fire, killing or wounding 40 attackers. Finally, after allowing the enemy a three-hour truce to remove the wounded from the battlefield, Richardson was surprised to see a German lieutenant emerge with 19 men, waving a white flag of surrender. He remained at his post, where a mortar shell later severed his leg. Richardson’s only complaint to the doctors, who carried him on a stretcher to the rear, was that he could not go back and kill more Germans. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at Ai.
The Germans abandoned their line south of the River Ai and withdrew to the fort at Lessay. The 79th. The division joined the massive Allied effort known as Operation Cobra, with the goal of breaking through the Normandy bridgeheads and cutting off German forces before they could fall back to defensive lines further north and east of the coastal areas. The operation was led by Bradley, with Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery leading the British and Canadian effort to take Caen and stop the Germans.
As part of the new training VIII. Corps went through the 79th. Division crossed the River Ai and captured Lessay on the 26th. July. The American armoured divisions led the offensive. The VIII Corps was placed under the command of the Third Army of Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. and charged with the defense of its left flank. The XV. Corps and now motorized, the division advanced first to the town of Fougères and then to Laval. Units from the 313th and 314th. The regiment crossed the Mayenne River by boat and participated in the construction of Bailey’s floating bridge. The 315th followed, and the division reached Laval on the afternoon of the 6th. August. From Laval the division advanced to the important industrial city Le Mans. The 315. The brigade was motorized and ordered to assist in the capture of Le Mans. The city fell on the 8th. August.
The 79th and other infantry divisions followed the American armored divisions as they moved northeast, attempting to encircle the German Seventh Army at Mortain. The 15th. August moved the 79. The battalion advanced in its usual three-man formation and approached the village of Nogent-le-Roi. The enemy opposition was slight, except for three Luftwaffe planes which attempted to dive towards the assembly area and were quickly shot down by the 463rd Anti-aircraft Battalion. Reunited, the division moved to the hills above Mant-Gassicourt, where the Seine meandered in a loop to the west-northwest. The 315. They left the 313th and 314th regiments in reserve and advanced. Regiment quickly moved north to trap the enemy on the inner peninsula formed by the river course.
Within five days, the desperate Germans had deployed two regiments for a counterattack at Dennemont. Lee McCardell of the Baltimore Sun described the US position as a pinky stuck in enemy territory….. just like the Bunker Hill proposal. According to McCardell, the men set up machine guns behind the wall, which they breached. The veterans sat there, quietly smoking and watching the desperate German advance, he wrote. They kept shooting until the whites of their eyes showed. Units 313 and 314 advanced so quickly that the German press mistakenly considered them airborne. At one point, Col. Sterling A. Wood, commander of the 313th. Regiment, counted 39 enemy dead in an area of 50 square meters. I’ve never seen anything like it in any other battle in this war, he said, and we’ve had some pretty tough battles.
General Bradley led the men forward with these words: The commander only gets this chance once in a century. We will destroy an entire enemy army and reach the German border. His 3rd Army commander, Patton, always aggressive, who on the 19th. August personal beachhead of the 79th. Army visited, was inspired to write a poem about the seemingly inevitable rise of combat : So let’s have a real fight, with piercings, stings and bites. / Let’s take our chances now that we have the ball. / Forget the beautiful and solid foundations in rakes of dull shells, / Let us shoot at the works and win! Yeah, win them all!
It turned out that the generals were too optimistic. Despite huge losses on D-Day, the disciplined German army managed to hold the famous Falaise Gap, a gap in the Allied line, long enough for 50,000 soldiers to escape defeat, death or capture. After surrounding the 1st Polish Artillery Division, courageously but outnumbered, on Hill 262 at Chambois, the surviving Germans managed to cross the Seine ahead of their pursuers. Montgomery and his confidants complained that Patton had failed to block the German retreat quickly – perhaps the only time in his career, civilian or military, that Patton was accused of being too slow or too aggressive. In fact, Bradley stopped him: Although Patton could draw a line through the tight end, I doubted his ability to hold it, Bradley later wrote. Nineteen German divisions are now trying to escape from the trap. Meanwhile George and his four divisions had already blocked the three main escape routes via Alencon, Sez and Argentan. Had he extended this line to Fales, he would have extended his roadblock to a distance of 40 miles. Not only could the enemy break through, but Patton’s positions could be trapped during the offensive. I preferred the breakdown lane in Argentan to the possibility of breaking my neck in Falaise.
Historians have long debated whether Bradley prolonged the war by choosing to leave the Falaise Gap open, allowing thousands of hardened German soldiers to live to fight another day. Anyway, from D-Day until the Allies closed the Falaise Gap on the 22nd, the Germans lost a lot of ground. In August, an impressive 240,000 men. In their only part of the fighting for the Seine loop, the 79th Infantry added to the total. The brigade suffered more than 25,000 casualties, took 12,000 prisoners, and captured or destroyed 200 German tanks, 235 artillery pieces, and 675 armored vehicles. The division’s anti-aircraft units shot down another 50 Luftwaffe aircraft. Three days later, on the 25th. August, Paris is liberated.
The 28th. In August, the 79th was assigned to the 19th. Body. The intention was to bypass Paris, much to the disappointment of the fighters, and enter Belgium to the northeast. In just 72 hours, the division covered 180 miles, crossed the legendary World War I battlefields of the Somme, and became one of the first American divisions to cross Belgium in World War II. Major General Charles H. Corlett, commanding officer of the XIXth Corps. Wyche reports that this advance is considered one of the fastest made by an infantry division over a similar distance during the entire war. Behind this praise was recognition of the division’s superior performance, especially in capturing and rebuilding bridges across several rivers that the Germans had destroyed in their retreat. Much of the credit goes to the men of the 304th Engineer Battalion, who single-handedly built three new bridges over the Somme, using whatever materials they could find, often under fire from enemy aircraft.
The 5th. In September, the division turned south to Reims and joined Patton’s Third Army. Meanwhile, the German Nineteenth Army retreated to the wooded hills above the Moselle. Again, the three regiments of the division advanced separately, the 313th focusing on Poussay and Ambacour and the 314th on Charm. The objective of the 315th. The brigade was Neufshato. Although they were unaware of it at the time, the men of the 79th marched into town. Infantry Division across the front of the 16th German Infantry Division.
On the 12th. September took 315. The regiment captured Neufshato in one of the fiercest attacks of the war. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John H. McAleer, the regimental combat team began the attack at 1 a.m. in darkness. The 1. Battalion advanced from the northeast, while the 2nd Battalion advanced from the east. The battalion took up positions south of the town to hold off any enemy reinforcements from that direction. The regiment’s scouts received valuable help from an unlikely source: 19-year-old British pilot Walter Farmer, whose Lancaster bomber was shot down near Liège in March. On his way to Switzerland, he joined the French resistance. Farmer met scouts on patrol and agreed to sneak into Neufshato to find out the number of German troops and their location. He was almost captured by the Germans, but the residents managed to hoist him onto the roof of the barn in time. The violent street battles continued throughout the day and night, with the Germans using the destroyed buildings to mount a last defense. Despite stubborn resistance, the 315. The Brigade took the town at midnight.
On its way east to Châtenois, the regiment encountered a German lieutenant holding an armistice flag. The interrogators heard from the officer that his commander, a colonel named Wetzel, wanted to discuss the terms of surrender. The German motorized regiment, which had its headquarters at Château Bazeilles, was sandwiched between the 315th and the 2nd French Panzer Division. Wetzel is prepared to surrender to the Americans on condition that they promise not to hand him and his men over to the nearby French troops, whom he labels terrorists. A quartet of regimental officers and a sergeant met Wetzel, a highly decorated 30-year German Army veteran who had lost an eye on the Russian front. The regiment’s official history dryly states that Wetzel said it was not one of the happiest moments of his life. The morning of the 14th. In September Wetzel turned over his entire regiment to Brigadier General Frank Greer, deputy commander of the 79th regiment. Division. This included 45 trucks, 29 armoured personnel carriers, five motorcycles, three Red Cross trucks, two 88 mm guns, a six-gun battery and two trailers.
The 315. The regiment advanced to Châtenois, overcame stubborn resistance there and then joined the 313th. The regiment joined Dombasle, where the two regiments formed a pocket that took another 500 German prisoners. Heavy night fighting in Ramekure destroyed another enemy force. In five days the division took a total of more than 2,200 prisoners and destroyed the famous 16th German Army. Infantry Division.
On the 18th. In September, the department got a well-deserved break when Bing Crosby, the famous singer turned movie star, brought his USO troupe to the area for two performances. Crosby, singer Dinah Shore and the rest of the band crossed the Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary and performed at the sites of the Division’s extraordinary triumph in Cherbourg and eastern France. The troop planned two performances for the regiments: a daytime performance at Ambacourt and an evening performance at Charm, where a large stage was erected on the field and anti-aircraft artillery was set up at various points for protection against Luftwaffe dive planes. The second show had just begun when over the loudspeakers came the order that the troops should return to their units and prepare for an immediate retreat. Crosby held on for 15 minutes, but when the crowd thinned, he finally gave up. The division was sent to Luneville and Morville. The men didn’t even get to hear Crosby’s famous song, White Christmas.
The fighting continued for four days as the division advanced to establish a bridgehead across the Merthe River at Fraimbois. Flat, barren terrain leading to a river flowing into the chest and dense woods beyond provided the Germans with a formidable defensive position. The third one. Battalion, 314th. Regiment, received the Presidential Award for his action at Merta, where he lost 31 killed and 160 wounded, took 46 prisoners, and destroyed or wounded an unknown number of enemies. We went to Fort du Roulle and crossed the Merthe River, said Lt. Ernest R. Purvis, commander of the 3rd Battalion. If we had to choose between two options, we would always choose the Fort du Roul. Compared to this operation, Fort du Roul was just a picnic. Division veterans began calling the crossing of the Merthe River the little D-day.
The battalion’s crossing was aided by an outstanding performance by Private (later Sergeant) Claude C. Ramsdale of Company L, who volunteered to get first-hand information on the strength of the enemy forces and the positions of the guns across the river. Armed with his M-1 rifle, Ramsdale headed for the river. Enemy gunmen and snipers opened fire as soon as they saw him, but Ramsdale later recalled that he somehow managed to get through the bullets. When he reaches the bank, he fires two quick shots at the snipers firing from a nearby farmhouse, and then begins to wade into the river with his rifle above his head. He took cover in midstream behind a stopped enemy tank destroyer and gave prepared hand signals to the crew of a friendly tank destroyer about a camouflaged German tank he had seen nearby. They took it out. Ramsdail then became involved in a firefight with an enemy machine gun nest and was wounded by a .50 caliber bullet to the right leg and left shoulder. Ramdas nearly drowned before coming to his senses and dragging himself to the riverbank. The artillery destroyed the gunners and the battalion crossed the river. They found three dead snipers in the nest and two more in the farmhouse, as well as 43 Germans who wanted to surrender.
The 22nd. In September, the division gathered at Luneville for another difficult mission. A reception camp was formed on the southern flank of Patton’s Third Army in the Parrois Forest area of northeastern France. The forest, which Hitler loved emotionally because he had fought there as a privateer in World War I, was taken by the battered 15th Army. Panzer Grenadier Division heavily reinforced. The Germans had orders to hold out until the last man. Against this fanatical defensive force, the warriors of the 79th had to fight hand to hand, tree to tree and rock to rock. This will not be an easy task given the advantages of the opponent: The Germans had a good view of the area, occupied the existing French defences and deployed tanks and assault guns which were difficult to neutralise under the dense foliage.
The 314. Regiment remained in reserve, while the 313th and 315th. The regiment advanced, first to Jolives and Chantech, then to Créon and Sionwiller. Bad weather prevented aerial bombardment and hampered the advance for several days. The reconnaissance patrols almost immediately met with serious resistance. The 312th Field Artillery Battalion and the artillery of the XVth Corps fired heavily on the German batteries. The 28th. Finally, in September, American bombers bombed the forest for an hour and a half.
After a bombardment landed the 313th and 315th. Regiment on the morning of the 29th of September, using the main road from east to west through the woods. The 315. The group reached the edge of the forest without much resistance, but then came under heavy machine gun and artillery fire and was forced to use tanks and tank destroyers to eliminate the opposition. The soldiers moved into the shady forest, not knowing that they would experience 14 days of incessant fighting that division historians called hell, before coming out the other side. The 313. The Brigade on the right flank crossed the Wesus and repulsed several German counterattacks with several bazooka groups. The 314. Brigade returned to the fight on the southwest edge of the forest and joined the troops of the 315th Brigade.
Until October 1, the division was one-third advanced in the woods, along roads which the sappers had to build under the uncomfortably close fire of enemy artillery. The engineer sergeant remembers operating in knee-deep mud: On a rainy and gloomy day we were given the task of clearing a minefield. The first 100 yards of said road were clear. Then we approached a wrecked jeep and two dead medics, victims of a Regal mine. There were bouncing Betty’s (S-mines) around. We started cleaning up the mud and someone stepped on Betty. Within seconds, there were five victims. The others gave them first aid and carried them on makeshift mats. The next day, three other engineers suffered similar injuries. It was impossible to get a jeep to the front to evacuate them.
The battle continues in the medieval shadows of the forest. On Hitler’s orders, the Germans dropped four full divisions on Parrois, including an old familiar enemy, the 11th Division. Panzer Division, which the 79th had encountered at Cherbourg. Every day more and more enemies are joining the American ranks, raising their hands and shouting that they have had enough. The eighth. In October, plans were finally made for a major attack the next morning to clear the forest once and for all. The 314th and 315th attacked an enemy stronghold at a fork in the road three-quarters of the way through the woods. The 313. The division should go around and connect with the other two divisions. As evidence of the importance the U.S. command attached to Parroy, General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and other senior group and corps commanders visited the division’s forward headquarters on the day of the attack and saw the final assault from the high ground directly behind the front line.
The final attack began at 6.30 a.m. and lasted until 3.30 p.m., when all the advancing troops reported that they had cleared the forest and reached the eastern edge of the forest. It took another five days of bloody fighting to clear the heights behind Parrois in Embermenil, three kilometres away. The 79th. The division suffered a total of 2,016 casualties in the Battle of Parroy Forest and took 1,249 prisoners of war with three times that number. Nine German divisions participated in this futile defense, including the elite Panzer 29 regiment, which according to the latest information was operating on the Russian front. Two companies of the 315th regiment, A and F, received presidential decorations for their actions at Embermenil.
The division was formed on the 23rd. October ’44. Liberated Infantry Division and spent 127 consecutive days in combat. The fighters spent the next 16 days at Luneville, where they slept in beds for the first time in four months to recover. After praising his men, Wyche encouraged each of them to perform better in the future by reasonably resting and recuperating and repairing all their faults. The race to the Rhine could begin. They needed all the rest they could get.
The division assembled near the village of Montigny and attacked early in the morning of the 13th. November. In the framework of Programme XV. Corps, the 79th was given the critical task of taking the town of Sarrebourg and crossing the legendary Saverne Gorge across the Vosges Mountains that separates France from Germany. The final destination was the strategically important city of Strasbourg, west of the Rhine, for which the French and Germans had fought for centuries. The 314th and 315th Regiments took the lead, while the 313rd. The regiment was in reserve. The famous 2nd French Armoured Division, the first to go into action during the liberation of Paris, was ready to break through the Saverne Gap as soon as it was cleared.
The Vosges Mountains are a relatively low mountain range, but of strategic importance since 58 BC. Chr, when Julius Caesar led the Romans to victory over the Germanic tribes. During World War I, the Vosges Mountains were the scene of the only mountain battles on the Western Front. The mountain changed hands four times in 1914 and 1915. The Germans took control and built extensive defences in the eastern foothills between Réchicourt-le-Château and Blamon in the south and Harbouay and Baccard in the north. The fortifications consisted of tank traps, bunkers, reinforced artillery positions, trenches and forts. These are the places taken by the German defenders in the autumn of 1944. They consider the defences of the Vosges as impregnable.
In a week of heavy fighting, the 79th Infantry Division pushed the Germans out of their supposedly impregnable positions and paved the way for the 2nd French Division. The 1st Battalion of the 313rd Regiment was the only American unit to accompany the French into the city, allowing the men of the division to distinguish themselves once again: They were the first Americans to see the Rhine during World War II. The retreating Germans, embarrassed by their losses, dropped leaflets in Strasbourg to warn the citizens: If General de Gaulle thinks Strasbourg is his now, he is wrong. Even though his surprise attack was a success for Prestige, that doesn’t mean he won’t soon be rudely dismissed from the dream. The German Empire would not think twice about giving up German Alsace. Never forget that: The German army will be back soon! It was a grandstanding that the Germans would not support.
The 79th. The brigade patrolled Alsace under the command of its reconnaissance unit and collected and interrogated captured German soldiers of the 25th Army. Volksgrenadierdivision, the 62nd and the 109th. Infantry Battalion, as well as 30 members of the Hitler Youth between the ages of 14 and 16. Meanwhile, the 315th Regiment captured Schweighausen on the Moder, a few miles west of the main enemy supply center at Hagenau, and crossed the river under heavy infantry, artillery, and air fire. The 315. Brigade advanced to Hagenau, while the 313th attacked Bischwiller from the right. The Germans, desperate to escape, tried to blow up the bridges over the Moder. An attempt was made by Captain William McKeon of Braintree, Massachusetts, an officer of the 313rd. Battalion, which dove into the river under heavy fire and cut the wire that led from dynamite charges under the bridge to a 500-pound bomb atop the structure. I didn’t know if working with the wire would trigger TNT, McKeon recalls. I felt really good when nothing was happening. McKeon later received a Silver Star for his actions that day.
On the eleventh. December stormed the 314th. Regiment in Gaggenau. Four days later, the division reached Lauterburg and Scheinbenhardt on the Lauter River, the border between France and Germany. Staff Sergeant Dewey. White had the honor of being the first member of the division to set foot on German soil during the war. Two captured enemy documents were particularly notable. The first, a reconnaissance report of the 361st Volksgrenadier Division, notes that the 79th Division is known to have fought particularly well in Normandy and is considered one of the best attack divisions in the U.S. Army. Wyche quotes the judgment of an anonymous German in his introduction to the history of the unit in the Stars and Stripes magazine in 1945. The second document was an order from the commanding officer of the 356th. Volksgrenadierdivision, who urged his men to handle the rifle well and preserve our old border town of Hagenau for the Führer. He wasn’t convincing: Only a handful of snipers resisted as the 314th moved into the city.
Overseas (17 February – 9 May 1945). The 79th. The division crossed the border on the 24th. March 1945 the Rhine. The next month he took part in the cleansing of the Ruhr and after Victory Day he took up his duties as occupation officer. (David Ramsey Historical Map Collection)
As the Germans launched their surprise offensive through the Ardennes – what would soon become the famous Ardennes Offensive – the 79th scanned the German defenses northeast of the captured towns of Lauterburg and Scheibenhardt, then withdrew to the Lauter River near Wissemburg, allowing the Third Army to split up for a lightning rush north to liberate the besieged town of Bastogne. For the first time since the landing at Utah Beach, which began six days after D-Day, the division was on the defensive. During this period a total of 21,311 prisoners of war were taken.
For the next six weeks, as the Battle of the Bulge raged north and west, the 79th Infantry Division held its ground. Division took up its position, which extended roughly from Klieburg on its left flank through Ingelheim and Aschbach to Hatten, one mile east, and then through the Hagenau Forest to the Rhine east of Sessenheim. The new year began with a heavy attack on the left flank of their sister division, the 45th Infantry Division, at Reipertswiller. The 79th. The battalion sent four battalions to meet the threat and withdrew on the 2nd. In January 1945, as ordered, France returned to the rebuilt Maginot defense line, which it had established in the 1930s in a vain attempt to deter a German attack.
Three days later, the Germans attacked across the Rhine north of Hamsheim, capturing the town and provoking a fierce counterattack by the 314th. Regiment and the 3rd Algerian Division, which had been deployed in support of the 79th. A second front opened on the 7th. January north of Kilstett. The 79th. The Brigade fought on two fronts.
For 11 days the division fought fierce battles against the best remaining enemy troops: the 21st Infantry Division. Panzer Division, the 25. Panzergrenadierdivision and a whole regiment of the 7. Parachute Division. Three battalions of the regiment, the 2nd and 3rd, and the 310th. Field Artillery Battalion, received presidential awards for repelling fanatical attacks by German tanks and infantry despite shortages of food, medicine and ammunition. Lieutenant Morris W. Goodwin of F Company, 2nd. Battalion, said his men refused to obey the order to retreat and told him: We ran as much as we wanted.
Later a former Wehrmacht battalion commander, who had been captured after the fighting at Hutton, made a counter-compliment – the only one the Germans usually made. Major Wilhelm Kurz of the 125. Panzergrenadier Regiment, veteran of 30 battles on the Eastern and Western Front and recipient of his country’s highest award, the Knight’s Cross, told his prisoners of the 79th Infantry Regiment: I had never thought of the Americans as soldiers until I fought them at Rittershoffen, but here we faced an enemy that fought back with more ferocity and determination than we had seen the Americans demonstrate before.
Two soldiers of the 79th Airborne Division. The Division passes in front of the ruins of the cathedral of Mantes-Gassicourt. (USIS-DITE/Bridgeman Images)
By order of the Seventh Army’s supreme command, the 79th Division withdrew. Division on 20. January to a new defensive line south of Hagenau on the Moder River. His men were frustrated because they thought they could have cleared Hutten and Rittershoffen of all remaining enemies if they had been allowed to stay. Instead, over the next three weeks the division repeatedly beat off attacks and counterattacks by elite German units, including the 10th SS Panzer Division. The Germans left 300 dead and another 100 prisoners after a failed attempt to cross the river with pontoon boats. The seventh. February released the 36th and 101st. Airborne Division the 79th after 87 days of continuous fighting. Wyche called the unit’s performance masterful.
After long preparations for the river crossing into Holland, called Big Sweat by the exhausted soldiers, the division took up positions south of Linfort and prepared for a major offensive on the Rhine. To emphasize the importance of the attack, General Eisenhower himself went to the city on the 24th. March the headquarters of the 79th According to a reporter from the Lorraine Cross Division, the fighters were eager for action: A friend of the 315. The regiment made this statement about the planned operation: Train, move, wait. Practice something else, go to the other side, then wait. Then repeat the procedure. Others warned that the crossing might end in failure, leaving the division on its heels in the Rhine and with the devil at its heels.
American soldiers receive a warm welcome from residents after the liberation of Cherbourg. (Keystone/Getty Images)
The attack on the Rhine was preceded by an hour-long artillery barrage, the largest of the war. Allied artillery fired 300,000 shells from 1,250 guns of all sizes at the German positions. Sgt. William McBride, commander of gun No. 1 of Charlie Battery, 311st Field Artillery, called the last shot 300,000 before it was fired.
After a barrage, the 2nd Battalion, 313rd Regiment needed only 29 minutes to cross the slowly moving Rhine and take the village of Overbruch. The 1. The first battalion advanced, followed by the second battalion. Battalion, 315th Regiment. By nightfall, all the assault teams had crossed the legendary river. The regiment suffered fewer than 30 casualties during the crossing, most of which were due to men falling overboard into the icy water or slipping on the road. Captain John E. Potts, S-3 (Operations Officer), 315. Brigade, had to be pulled out of the water when his overloaded boat hit the water and sank. Lieutenant Colonel Earl F. Holton, the battalion commander, jokingly fished him out of the water: Well, I’ll be damned. What is my S-3 doing here when we have work to do? Clinton Conyer, a United Press correspondent who made the crossing with the division, reported that it was done with the precision of a smuggler.
During the next few days the division met with irregular resistance, but succeeded in capturing the factory and controlling the highway behind Dinslaken. The 28th. In March the division attacked frontally, captured the new Emscher Canal and defeated Hamborn. By the end of the month, the 79th had achieved its main objective: the capture of the Rhine-Herne Canal.
The division’s last combat action took place from the 8th to the 16th. April took place, then the 313th and 315th. The regiment led the effort to take control of the northern bank of the Ruhr and close the pocket of dysentery that had formed between the First and Ninth US Armies. The bridgehead cut off more than 18 enemy divisions. One of the last of the 35,466 Germans captured by the division was the industrialist Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, owner of Friedrich Krupp AG Hoesch-Krupp, a major supplier of arms and equipment to the Nazi regime and the Wehrmacht.
Lorraine Cross badge. (HistoryNet Archives)
The 16th. In April 1945, the 8th Infantry Division joined up with the 3rd Battalion of the 313rd Regiment between Kettwig and Steele, relieving the 79th Division and ending the last physical contact with the enemy after 302 days of fighting, from Utah Beach to the Ruhr area. During their deployment, the 79th Division suffered a total of 15,203 casualties, including 2,476 killed, 10,971 wounded, 1,186 POWs and 579 missing. Among the missing was Private Roy Morris, whose wife Margaret received the long-awaited Missing in Action telegram at her childhood home in Nashville in early January 1945. It is known that these MIA telegrams preceded the Killed in Action telegrams.
In this case Morris disappeared because his platoon sergeant died before he could complete the final report on Morris’ evacuation to the rear with frozen legs and a small shrapnel wound in his arm. A subsequent telegram reports that Morris, on the 28th. December was slightly injured in Germany. He then managed to send a letter from the hospital to England, where he was recovering and helping to organise performances in various hospitals and camps. Morris survived the war, returned to Tennessee and made a successful career in radio and television, first on the stages of England.
Lieutenant Robert O. Hogan also survived the war. While on occupation duty with a division in Germany after the war, Hogan met a beautiful young Hungarian woman, Rosalie Maria Szarka, a theater actress who had been forced to work as a slave in a German ball bearing factory. They married and returned to Hogan’s hometown of Oklahoma City, and a few years later to Indianapolis, where Hogan became assistant secretary and treasurer of the International Typographical Union.
Morris and Hogan were two happy people, and they never forgot it. You served in the 79th. (Cross of Lorraine), which had made its way through Europe from the beaches of Normandy to the foothills of Bavaria beyond the Ruhr. My father kept his divisional stripes in a file his entire life. He didn’t talk much about war, but when I asked him as a child if he had ever been in a major battle, he replied: Son, if a German bastard stands behind a tree and shoots at you, it’s already a big fight. Only a real combat veteran could say that. As noted by an anonymous German intelligence officer, the 79th. The division was indeed one of the best attack divisions in the U.S. Army. MHQ
Roy Morris Jr, a regular at MHQ, is the author of nine books, including the most recent, Gertrude Stein Has Arrived: The Return of a Literary Legend (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019). As a child, Morris watched his father, former Private Roy Morris of the 79th Airborne Division. Division, numerous films and television programs about World War II, with The Battlefield (1949) and Patton (1970) among his favorites. Robert O. Hogan, also mentioned in this story, was the father of Bill Hogan, the editor of MHQ.
This article appeared in the Spring 2022 issue (Vol. 33, No. 3) of MHQ-The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the title: The race to the Rhine
Would you like to receive the richly illustrated printed edition of the MHQ in high quality directly to your home four times a year? Register now for a special price!As World War II neared its end, Allied forces were planning for a final offensive to take back control of Europe. On April 27th, 1945, the 79th Infantry Division, led by General George S. Patton, was about to launch a deadly surprise attack on the German city of Aachen.. Read more about 79th infantry division association and let us know what you think.
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