Officers Advanced Course – Armored School
823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion (ST) at Mortain (France)
Maj William F. Jackson, Maj John E. Wales III, Maj Marshall B. Garth, Maj John A. Rankin, Maj Alfred L. Dibelia, Maj Robert Hall, Capt George F. Sawyer, Capt Robert L. Perley, Capt James L. Higgins
Introduction and Buildup – General
Much thought and study has gone into the selection of a typical action involving the 823d Tank Destroyer Battalion (Self Towed). The Mortain (France) operation was selected for four paramount reasons. They are as follows :
– (1) Heavy enemy armor was encountered
– (2) This unit remained attached to one infantry division throughout the European campaign except for short periods
– (3) The great significance, tactically, of the German counter-stroke at Mortain
– (4) Last but not least, a general consensus of opinion from members of the 823d that this action typifies tank destroyer vs tank warfare
A great opportunity in infantry-tank destroyer cooperation existed early in the history of this unit but whether this cooperation existed in its full potential still remains questionable. It goes back as early as the staging at Herteford, England, where it was attached to the 30th Infantry Division in April 1944. At this town some 20 miles north of London, began the relationship which brought mutual understanding and respect lasting throughout the European War. During May and June the battalion drew vehicles, weapons and other equipment and found time to spend two weeks on indirect firing training on the Salisbury Plain. After completion of this firing, it moved on to Basingstoke, England, where all vehicles were waterproofed and last minute preparations were made for the invasion of the European continent. The 823d was an extremely well trained unit with high morale and plenty of esprit-de-corps; this was proved correct in its later operations on the mainland of Europe. It had an added advantage, too, in that it had made the acquaintance of and enjoyed mutual respect with the 30th Infantry Division.
Liaison officers of the 823d TDB landed June 13 1944 in France but it was not until June 24 that the battalion proper disembarked on Omaha Beach. The 823d participated in the action of the beachhead breakout in and around St Lo. This was an indoctrination and shakedown period which placed the battalion in a high state of combat efficiency, much to be desired for its latter test at Mortain. This action was truly to be a test of tank destroyer capabilities in their primary role against enemy armor where many interesting aspects were brought forth regarding mobility, armament, and lack of armor protection.
For the proper buildup and importance of the Mortain operation, as studied in the light of tank destroyer action of the 823rd, it is necessary to pause a moment for the setting of the stage by the Allied Forces, July 15 to Agust 5 1944. The Allied Forces in France were gaining a foothold against stubborn German resistance. By the middle of July, the Allied Front stretched from Caen through Caumont to St Lo and on west to Lessay on the western coast of the Cotentin Peninsula. On July 25, Gen Omar N. Bradley and his United States 1st Army broke out of St Lo, slashed downward to the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, passing through the bottleneck at Avranches and bursting out in full force upon the rear of the German Armies.
The German High Command wasted little time in realizing the seriousness of the situation now confronting them. Field Marshal von Kluge, in command of the Germans in France and the Low Countries, reported to Gen Warlimontz, Hitler’s personal representative, on July 31, that Avranches must be recaptured and held at all costs. From Field Marshal von Kluge’s diary of August 4 1944 :
[…] Estimate of situation : the American is trying to exploit his penetration at Avranches by pushing southward […] the first mission is to cut off the enemy units which penetrated to the south from their rear communications and to reestablish communications with the Coast […]
On August 4, Hitler issued direct orders to Field Marshal von Kluge to stage a large scale counterattack with the objective of smashing through to the sea at Avranches. Von Kluge had foreseen the necessity of such an operation and had commenced the assembly of forces as early as July 31. This counterattack plan, code named “Luttich”, contemplated an attack along the axis of the See River, using two good secondary roads, one on each side of the river, for the advance into Avranches to the west. The main objective was the capture of the high ridge paralleling the Sée River and gaining the commanding observation for the entire area.
A secondary objective was the capture of the tactically important Hill 314 at the eastern edge of Mortain, a few miles south of the intended breakthrough corridor. In German hands, Hill 314 would not only provide excellent observation of American dispositions south of the Sée River, but would serve to deny the Americans almost equally good observation eastward. The First Army history gives this German operation the codename “Luttich”, apparently the operation was the same as to mission, troops used and commanders assigned. Prior to this time, the German High Command had committed its armor by division or even an element thereof at a time. However, with the very survival of the German Army itself at stake, the High Command decided to employ no less than five Panzer Divisions plus attachments, for the counterattack. These were the :
– 1.SS-Panzer-Division LSSAH
– 2.SS-Panzer-Division, Das Reich (filled up with the wreck of the destroyed 17.SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division (Goetz von Berlichenger)
– miscellaneous troops
– 460.-Artillery-Battalion (motorized)
– One AAA Regiment (Flak)
– 13.AAA Division (Flak)
– miscellaneous troops
All of the above units were under the command of the German Seventh Army.
Operation – Pré Battle Movement
August 2nd found the 823d TDB and the 30th Infantry Division in XIX Corps reserve south of St Lo engaged in maintenance activities. The 823d after its leading in Europe had fought with the 30th Infantry Division, crossing the Vire River and participating in the St Lo breakout. Personnel and equipment replacements had been coming through in good order and the battalion was nearly at 100% operational strength. On Aug 5, the battalion and the 30th Infantry Division were attached to VII Corps and ordered to move into the vicinity of Mortain. These units were to relieve the US 1st Infantry Division, which was in turn ordered to extend the Allied line southward and farther into the German rear.Little if any information was passed down to the battalion units in their relief of the 1st Infantry Division and none was forthcoming. Indeed a vague situation existed and along with this went the usual relaxation that is prevalent in a quiet sector. This statement is substantiated as follows : company commanders report the relief of position took place without incident, that no enemy information was turned over during the relief, and that the units to which they were attached gave them none. One reconnaissance platoon leader reports that information he received was not much out there. From these observations it is clearly apparent that a true and determined defense of the sector was never considered, thus a great initial advantage was given to the enemy. According to reports a warning of imminent attack reached the 30th Infantry Division from VII Corps approximately 20 minutes before the first signs of trouble appeared : Enemy counterattack expected vicinity Mortain from east or north within 12 hours.
On Aug 6, the 823d TDB was disposed on the ground as follows :
– Bn Hqs and Hq Co, located in Le Clos Marion (La Roche – Le Hamel – La Vallée), about 3 miles west of Juvigny Le Tertre
– Able Co, 1st Plat, initially south of Mortain guarding roads from Barenton
– Able Co, 2d Plat, on Hill 285 west of Mortain
– Able Co, 3d Plat, near the 1st Plat, protecting approaches from east and south of Mortain
Able Co, 1st Plat, commanded by Lt Thomas Springfield, moved the same day, Aug 6, to l’Abbaye Blanche which is located north of Mortain. This platoon gained the distinction of halting the enemy’s efforts to clean out the Mortain area. This freedom of maneuver for a thrust west was badly needed. Able Co was attached to the 120-IR (30-ID).
– Baker Co, 1st Plat, on the road west of St Barthélemy
– Baker Co, 2d Plat, on the same road, echeloned slightly farther west toward Juvigny
– Baker Co, 3d Plat, (reinforced) located in St Barthélemy
Actually Baker Co was disposed in depth from St Barthélemy, west along an important road net that the Germans proposed using as one of their supply routes in the attack to the sea to Avranches. It is not believed this disposition was foreseen to the extent of the purpose served, but it had much to do with the defeat of the enemy in its attempted advance along that route. Baker Co was attached to the 117-IR (30-ID).
– Charlie Co, 1st Plat, near Reffuveille, in firing positions along the main highway running west from Juvigny le Tertre
– Charlie Co, 2d Plat, near La Daviais (La Bazoge) protecting the Bn CP
– Charlie Co, 3d Plat, in the vicinity of the 1st Plat
Charlie Co, although not receiving the heavy fighting of Able and Baker Cos, made many moves and their presence alone could have done much to thwart off the enemy movements in those areas. Charlie Co was attached to the 119-ID (30-ID). Note : A Recon Plat was attached to each company and accompanied their respective companies to their new positions.
In general, most of the positions were taken over lock, stock and barrel from the preceding tank destroyer unit and remained in the same location throughout the operation. The time factor must be considered here, because as indicated, time was not available to do much moving and it is doubtful whether a full study of the platoon positions was ever made. The fact that the company commanders and platoon leaders did not actually choose their own positions probably had much to do with the later loss of the 3d Plats of Able and Baker Co. They were without infantry protection and the guns were not mutually supporting. However, Springfield, commanding Able Co’s 1st Plat, did make a study of the terrain after relief at his particular position. He was not satisfied with the location of the guns, so he moved them 200 yards north, just across the bridge spanning the railroad leading into l’Abbaye Blanche. From this position seven roads and trails could be brought under fire. All of these led into l’Abbaye Blanche and Mortain from the east and north. In addition, southern approaches out of Mortain could be covered. Any two guns could take under fire the same road.
Infantry units were disposed as follows :
– 120th Infantry Regiment in the vicinity of Mortain, particularly the important terrain feature east of Mortain (Hill 314), as well as west and north (Hill 285)
– 119th Infantry Regiment in an assembly area, vicinity Le Mesnil Adelée
– 117th Infantry Regiment was situated in the St Barthélemy area, north of Mortain
Directions of fire of the main guns of the 823d TDB were variable, of course, and daily changes were made without appreciable difference in their primary mission assignments. It is interesting to note here that all weapons were located generally to deny the use of roads to the enemy. Roads are always the principal avenues of approach and it is a known fact that although weather permitted cross-country operations, all defenses including infantry were generally set up to block roads.
The 823d paid particular attention to roads and road blocks for two reasons; their importance to the movement of enemy armor, and secondly, the ease of movement and change of position for their own weapons. This point is brought out as doctrines teach cross-country operation but very limited use was ever made of same by towed tank destroyer guns. One cannot pass from these remarks without mentioning the restrictions of movement due to hedgerows, most of which could not be traversed by half tracks without the use of demolitions or bulldozers which were not used in this operation. It can be stated that generally the enemy was limited to the road nets, and that they made no serious penetration without that factor being present. Short penetrations were made by roving enemy armored units at positions such as Hill 285 and along the deep valley on the 30th Division’s left flank, but neither penetrations were extremely effective. Weather was a great benefit to the enemy at the start of the battle, as they attacked at night or in the early morning hours under cover of fog. It is not to be construed that the terrain was a total obstacle but it did constrict, at least initially, all movement to the roads. This is borne out by members of the infantry as well as the commanders of the tank destroyer units.
0perations – August 7 1944
A dark cloud sprang out of the east on the night of Aug 6-7, the German counterattack for Avranches. The actual time of attack was set for 2400, Aug 6, but due to last minute difficulties encountered by the enemy in assembling troops, it was delayed somewhat. Artillery observers in the north of the 30th Division zone reported tanks moving along the northern road paralleling the Sée River, where it bends south toward St Bathélemy and Mortain. This enemy attack was directed along the Sée River towards Le Mesnil Adelée. At 0130, tanks and infantry advanced out of la Forêt de Mortain, swept around and engulfed the roadblock manned by the 3d Platoon of A Co, guarding Mortain from the south, and penetrated the town itself. Actually the full force of the enemy attack came just before daylight. The Germans had weather conditions in their favor; darkness gave way to fog-laden daylight and the first enemy action encountered at l’Abbaye Blanche was at 0500. A German armored half track mounting a 75-MM assault gun was knocked out by an anti-tank gun. This vehicle was closely followed by another half track, loaded with ammunition, which was also taken under fire and destroyed. It was a foggy morning and we waited until the cars were only 30 yards from the number three gun before we opened fire.
The anti-tank gun referred to was undoubtedly a tank destroyer 3-inch gun (76.2-MM) as only two anti-tank guns were in position and one was south of the overpass and could not have taken the enemy under fire. Much controversy arose later as to the composition and command of the roadblock at l’Abbaye Blanche. It was this roadblock that stood so determinately in the way of the enemy advance throughout the entire action. Most of the evidence points toward command by Springfield, and as to composition it varied daily, even hourly. As the fighting continued and pressure increased many individual soldiers drifted into the area, some with crew-served weapons and others with just individual arms. Eventually the defense of this roadblock consisted of some 75 men including tank destroyer and machine gun crews. Best accounts put composition of the road block as follows :
– 1st Plat, Fox Co, 120th Infantry Regiment
– 1st Plat, Able Co, 823d TDB
– 1st Plat, AT Co (minus 2 guns), 120th Infantry Regiment
– 1st Mortar Section and 1 MG Section, Fox Co, 120th Infantry Regiment
Lt Col J. W. Lockett, commanding 2d Bn, 117th Infantry Regiment, had this to say :
[…] it was learned that Able-823 had established a roadblock at the intersection at l’Abbaye Blanche, and that this roadblock, although supported by Fox-120, stuck out rather precariously, and was weakly protected. I realized the importance of this position as an avenue of approach for enemy tanks and vehicles and agreed that Easy Co should move up and tie in with this tank destroyer unit and that the 2d Plat Fox-120 should cover the guns while they organized and made further plans. This was done placing machine guns and bazooka teams in support of the tank destroyer position. The wisdom of this decision was borne out throughout the period of the counterattack. The area in front of the position became a graveyard for about 35 to 40 German tanks and vehicles […]
Lockett had nothing but praise for Springfield and his unit of tank destroyers. An after-action interview with Col Hammond D. Birks, commanding the 120-IR and Lt Thomas Andrew, of Fox-120, substantiates the tactical importance of the roadblock at l’Abbaye Blanche to the effect that it was one of the most important factors in the 120th Infantry’s successful repulse of the major enemy counterattack of Aug 6-12. If this roadblock had not held, the whole position of the 120th Infantry would have been nullified and the resulting gap would have permitted the enemy to smash through the entire Mortain area.
The enemy had once occupied this very ground around the railroad bridge and had set up defensive positions there. Springfield used these as there were no alternate positions in the area. They were adequate and time was short. A 3-inch gun was placed on either side of the main road, with two 30. caliber machine guns nearby for support. A bazooka and BAR team, plus half a squad of riflemen, were placed in former enemy dug-in positions along a small hedgerow at the sharp left turn north of the railroad bridge. A 57-MM AT gun was placed at the end of the road paralleling the main north-south road, covering not only penetrations down this road, but from an additional road to the left that curved into it. Two other 3-inch guns were placed north of the railroad bridge, one to cover the main road, the other facing southwest across the railroad to cover any enemy penetration along a straight stretch of the road coming in from the northeast. A 57-MM AT gun also covered this road from a position at the road junction near the river in l’Abbaye Blanche itself. Immediately south of the railroad bridge, riflemen and bazooka teams were placed in dug-in positions on either side of the road.
The right flank was protected by 8 men and and 30. caliber machine gun at a big rock just off the road from the northeast and facing towards the river. A line running through a cleft in the rook furnished the communications with the mortar squad to the rear of this position. Along the important left flank, a squad of riflemen and two 30. caliber machine guns were placed in an orchard that covered two road junctions, in addition to a short stretch of the north-south road. Six rifle-men and a 50. caliber machine gun, manned by tank destroyer men, were placed in and among the houses between this orchard and the railroad bridge. Two belts of mines were laid near the bend of the road from the southeast, at the south end of the roadblock, and these were covered by a bazooka and BAR team. To sum up the defensive dispositions of the roadblock force, four 3-inch tank destroyer guns and two 57-MM anti-tank guns were posted to cover all important roads, with the main emphasis on the north-south road to Mortain, and these guns were protected and supported by riflemen and bazooka and machine gun crews.
On Aug 7, Lt Stewart with two squads of the 2d Plat, Fox-120, joined the l’Abbaye Blanche road-block. He had established a roadblock to the south, but had been forced to withdraw from his position. Upon joining the l’Abbaye Blanche roadblock, he organized and defended the rear (south) end. From time to time during the next few days other men from different companies straggled into the roadblock, so that eventually Springfield had men from Dog, Easy, Howe, King and George Cos, 120-IR, totaling some 150 men. However, the greater number of these were battle fatigue cased and had little part in the actual defense. The previous figure of 75 effective still stands. Some of these extras were concentrated to the south of the roadblock with Stewart.
During Aug 7, the roadblock was not only shelled repeatedly, but was also attacked by the Luftwaffe twice, which strafed the little force with rocket guns. They were even hit by British planes with rocket guns, two tank destroyer men being wounded in this unfortunate and erroneous attack. However, as far as the roadblock force was concerned, the British were soon forgiven as they were quick to testify that the British did a wonderful job against the Germans on the front of the l’Abbaye Blanche positions.
The 3d Plat of Able Co had a less important existence particularly as to defensive contributions. Its activities can be summed up quickly. Shortly after daylight on Aug 7, enemy tanks and infantry came out of the Forêt de Mortain to the east and slightly south of Mortain and swept into that town from the south. The 3d Platoon was quickly surrounded and overrun along with some units of the 120-IR. Much happened here to cause bitterness and skepticism among the tank destroyer units – their guns were not protected by infantry. This one factor had a great deal to do with their capture and destruction, they could not protect themselves against an infantry attack. This story is best told by Robert L. Hewitt, author of the 30th Infantry Division History.
The tank destroyer platoon south of Mortain fended off the first German attack with 50. caliber machine guns mounted on half tracks but was subsequently split as under when the Germans swept around its positions, making the platoon’s 3-inch guns untenable. The close-in fire of the enemy was devastating to say the least. Sixteen men reached the 1st Plat’s positions north of Mortain after 5 days of fighting. Nine others joined nearby infantry and fought their way into friendly lines on Hill 314. One man remained hidden in a ditch for five days. Thirteen men were still missing when the battle ended.
The 2d Plat of Able Co held an important position along with dough boys of the 120th Infantry, that of Hill 285, northwest of Mortain. Action on the slopes of Hill 285 began in the “mist” about 0500 on Aug 7. A bazooka team led by an officer of the 1st Bn, name unknown, went forward about 500 yards stalking a German MK IV tank. The tank was finally stalked down and knocked out by Sgt Ames Broussard of the tank destroyer platoon. Broussard was unable to get back to his own lines for 14 hours. At 0900 two more German tanks approached, and were knocked out at 150 yards by one of the tank destroyer guns. Another tank moved up, firing at the American position, and it also suffered the fate of his team mates. This last tank was set afire by a shot from only 50 yards by a well concealed tank destroyer gun. Two enemy self-propelled guns and an armored car also fell victim to the tank destroyers on Hill 285.
The 3d Plat of Baker Co met with a fate similar to that of the 3d Plat of Able Co. This unit was located in St Barthélemy and had one 3-inch gun from the 2d Plat of Baker Co and a platoon of 57-MM AT guns with it. These towed tank destroyer guns of Baker Co played an important part in halting the Germans, although particularly vulnerable to the well coordinated panzer grenadier-tank attack. Weather enters the picture again : handicapped by the fog is used in the same breath as a well coordinated enemy attack regarding the loss of positions at St Barthélemy. At the start the gunners were firing at nothing more tangible than flashes of enemy tank guns. The 3d Plat destroyers knocked out two German tanks early in the fight, but three of the four guns of the 3d Plat were soon casualties. The heavy towed tank destroyer guns were sitting ducks when they revealed their locations by firing. Lt Leon L. Neel, commanding the 1st Plat, Baker Co, brought forward a replacement gun from his platoon under heavy fire in an attempt to reach the besieged weapons of the 3d Plat at St Barthélemy. His platoon was 1000 yards in rear of the town to the west. This gun never reached St Barthélemy due to enemy action. It was forced to take a position just west of the town and while there, knocked out an MK V, killed another tank commander and mowed down supporting infantry with small arms fire.
A German 88-MM soon found the range on this gun and promptly eliminated it, wounding most of the crew. Another gun from the same platoon was brought forward and had an equally short but useful career. One enemy tank approached and was knocked out. Two more enemy tanks appeared, but halted out of gun range. Then, one of these advanced, covered by the second, and the tank destroyer gun knocked this tank out. About this time, however, the second tank opened fire and destroyed the tank destroyer guns, Baker Co lost seven of its twelve guns and their respective half track prime movers during the action of Aug 7. One intrepid crew, however, ventured out forward of the friendly lines and extricated one of the abandoned guns. Other members of Baker Co fought alongside the infantry with their carbines or joined bazooka teams stalking enemy tanks. Baker Co accounted for eight MK V tanks during that first day of operations with a probable additional two. The 2d Plat added depth to the position and never actually engaged the enemy on the first day of operations.
Baker Co fared little better on enemy information and friendly infantry support than did Able Co. According to Neel :
– Lack of information probably destroyed the 3d Plat before it made any defensive contribution whatever, we were requested at 0800 to reinforce troops within St Bathélemy without being informed that our 3d Plat was wiped out
– Contact was inadequate with the infantry as it was not believed they ever realized their obligations to protect tank destroyer units from enemy foot troops. A change of support mission had much to do with this inadequate cooperation. Neel’s platoon was changed from support of the 2d Bn to support of the 3d Bn, 117th Infantry, but was never able to contact that headquarters, thereby leaving the guns to operate alone. Nothing could be gained in information other than that which came from personal observation. C Co was quite removed from the heavy action that confronted A and B Cos. They were in position initially with the 823d Hqs Bn and during the early morning of Aug 7, they took up direct fire positions in the vicinity of La Roche and Reffuveille along the highway running from St Barthélemy west to Juvigny le Tertre and on to Avranches.
As the German counterattack became more definite in strengt hand direction, many hurried calls arrived for additional tank destroyer support in the threatened sectors. Orders were received by 0630 to send guns some 8000 yards to the south along the highway running northeast to southwest from Mortain to St Hilaire du Harcouet. This order could not be carried out at the time but by 1200, the 3d Plat of Charlie Co was released from control by the 119th Infantry and proceeded to this point to meet this threat of approximately 35 enemy vehicles, including armor, to the south. The other two platoons moved north toward La Blairie (La haute Blairie) near le Bois Ambroise and took up direct fire positions.
The mission of these two platoons was to prevent the withdrawal of a large number of enemy soft-skinned vehicles which were reported in Le Bois Ambroise (Ambroise Woods). Actually these two platoons were to go as far north as le Mesnil Adelée. Contact was made with a rifle company from the 119th Regiment and they proceeded to a point just south of the town. They were informed (by whom it is unknown but it is unimportant as it was rather obvious in a few minutes) that the enemy was just ahead. A 57-MM anti-tank gun nearby knocked out a MK V tank with two flanking shots. Other German tanks were heard moving around in the woods to the north. By 0800 heavy enemy mortar fire began to fall on the tank destroyer positions. This action convinced us that le Mesnil Adelée was no place for us to take our armored care and half tracks, towing 3-inch guns, so we set Up a road1ock in place, writes Capt T. L. Raney (then Lt) commanding the 1st Recon Plat. The American 3d Armored Division took over the mission of taking le Mesnil Adelée, somewhat relieving this situation.
The 3d Plat on the right flank down south was reinforced by a Recon Plat, which moved by a circuitous route from the northern position. Many French families were moving to the west on foot and in wagons, and managed to constrict movements on the roads. This type of movement by civilians usually points toward an attack or expected attack by the enemy. It was about 1700 when the Recon Plat reached the 3d Plat at their position. It was said to have been a strong defensive position with an equally strong alternate position. Generally speaking this flank of the 30th Division was open, making any defense by this platoon almost unfeasible. Fortunately, no enemy was encountered.
Here ends the first day of action at Mortain, the situation very obscure and the final outcome yet to be determined. It was a touch and go proposition with a slight advantage to the defender. An appropriate remark at this time comes from the 30th Infantry Division History :
with a heavy onion breath that day the Germans could have achieved their objectives
Operations – August 8 1944
Throughout the night Aug 7-8, the fog of battle cleared a little, probably for both sides. Stock was taken of destruction to personnel and positions, resupply was effected where possible and a vigilant watch was established. The Germans put out heavy patrols, either in an attempt to gain information or to gain positions to continue its attack or withdrawal. It is a fact that much field recovery of personnel and vehicles was attempted and in some cases was carried out effectively. It was the German army policy to pick up their dead close into the battle position even at a great risk. This was psychological in two respects; that of building the morale of the German soldier because he wouldn’t have to face these sights in his advance as well as that of knowing he was cared for, and from the American side, the possibility of assessing accurate enemy losses was eliminated. This was particularly bad for the American soldier, when after a heavy fire fight and he was sure the German had many casualties, he pushed forward to find little evidence, if any, of same.
In telephone conversations during the night of Aug 7-8 by the German commanders, the Leibstandarte was spoken of as having been stopped and in remnants. In instructions to the 1.SS-Panzer-Division for the following day we have this remark :
[…] Each man must give his best … if we have not advanced considerably by this evening or tomorrow morning, the operation will have been a failure […]
The enemy had gained ground on the 7th but certainly not of any significance and the key terrain was still in the hands of the Americans. St Barthélemy, Mortain and the area south of Mortain were in the hands of the enemy but Hill 314 and Hill 285 were in the hands of the 30th Infantry Division who also held control of the road nets leading west.
The principal German attack of Aug 8 came from the St Barthélemy area to the southwest against Hill 285 where the 2d Plat of Able Co was located. The attack commenced at 0130 and consisted of infantry supported by at least 8 tanks. By 0430 this attack had pressed close to positions on Hill 285 and Able Co, 120th Infantry, was forced back to a road traversing the hill. Two flame throwers prevented tank destroyer crews from manning their guns and again tank destroyer men fought as infantry. Artillery fire soon broke up this attack but it was resumed again farther to the south. From all accounts the German attack on the 8 was more intense and better supported than it had been on the 7. On the other hand, the Americans had an additional regiment, from the 4th Infantry Division, attached and an attack was launched at the Germans at 0800.
This attack was in the direction of St Barthélemy and was supported by the 629-TDB. It relieved the immediate pressure on Hill 285, but made little progress. Apparently the tank destroyer unit on Hill 285 spent the day licking their wounds and reorganizing as this attacking force had now presented them with that opportunity. All along the line the American forces attacked with negligible success, but nevertheless it stopped the German assault. The 1st Plat of Able Co was attacked at 1530 on Aug 8 by an enemy unit of patrol size, which was completely annihilated. Four anti-tank men at the roadblock were wounded. The Germans had managed to mine a road to the south which was being used as a supply and evacuation route. A half track being used to evacuate casualties was knocked out by this mine field. This evened the score as a German half track stopped to investigate the same mine field and was promptly destroyed by our forces. Throughout the day, the 2d Plat is credited with 2 tanks, 4 half-tracks, 1 wheeled vehicle and 15 prisoners of war.
Baker Co had been receiving artillery fire all morning and at 1000 moved to a spot not so well “zeroed” in. Two ammunition trailers had been lost. Baker Co positions were held during the day with little chance to fire. This situation occurred as a result of the American attacks to regain Mortain and towed tank destroyers served little purpose, if any, in the attack. Charlie Co remained substantially in the same localities with exception of the 3d Plat which moved to the vicinity of Juvigny.
Operations – August 9 1944
Fighting was almost continuous night and day in the Mortain – St Barthélemy area. Hours and days meant little – survival was all important. The enemy launched another attack to the southeast on Aug 9 at 0430 toward the 2d Plat, Able Co on Hill 285. Less strength and aggressiveness was apparent but to the soldier on the ground and at the point of contact, one attack is as strong as another. The 3d Recon Plat assisted materially against this thrust by giving close in protection. No material gains were made by the enemy and by 1600, the 117th and 120th Infantry Regiments launched a counterattack against the enemy attack. This left the 2d Plat in an exposed position due to a pocket created by earlier, German gains. In order to cope with the situation this platoon pulled back to a better position and the 2d and 3d Recon Plats rendered the close protection that was needed. Artillery fire destroyed one 3-inch gun of the platoon and Lt Cunningham, commanding the 3d Recon Plat was wounded by mortar fire. Springfield’s 1st Plat was having a field day against local attacks and against movements across their front directed against Hill 285. The 1st Plat had two 3-inch gun sights destroyed by artillery fire, even so he mentions destroying an enemy vehicle by sighting down the tube.
Baker Co remained in position with little or no activity occurring in their area. Artillery fire continued, causing little damage but placing heavy strain and tension on all members of the company. They received one replacement, Lt Rady, who must have been counting his hours – entering combat at this particular time and place. Charlie Co made only one change of any consequence during the period. The 1st Plat was moved near the 3d Plat in vicinity of Juvigny. This completed a build-up to add the necessary strength to hold the important road west out of St Barthélemy.
Operations – August 10 1944
The German commander had reported his heavy losses and inability to make any substantial gains in the Mortain area, but he did not receive that much desired order to withdraw. Although he had taken Mortain and St Barthélemy, he remarked that the enemy was not entirely cleared from this area. References were undoubtedly made to the infantry on Hill 314 and at the l’Abbaye Blanche’s roadblock. Springfield’s shooting gallery, the 1st Plat, Able Co, defense at l’Abbaye Blanche, was creating quite a disturbance to the German program of operations.
Hitler ordered the attack resumed and again on the early morning of Aug 10, the push continued. A vast difference was noted as it lacked the intensity and coordination of previous days. A local attack was made against the 2d Plat of Able Co former position, but to the surprise of the Germans no one was present. Contact with the 1st Plat had been lost during the night due to a roadblock emplaced by the Germans. It was quickly removed and contact was reestablished. The 1st Plat was having its usual field day by destroying several half tracks and nine other assorted vehicles. Baker Co suffered two casualties from intense artillery fire which they had been subjected to for the past three days. No other action was reported outside of an integration of replacements into that depleted unit. Charlie Co remained in its former positions without incident. The platoon and the Division south flank made contact with the 35th Infantry Division now moving up on the right flank. You will recall that this platoon had reported being in an exposed position earlier.
Final Operations – August 11-14 1944
On 11 August the 2d Plat of Able Co was ordered back to its original position on Hill 285 alone with the 2d and 3d Recon Plats. This was accomplished by infiltration in an effort to attract as little attention as possible. No interference by the Germans was encountered. This period was reported as quiet other than local artillery fire. The 1st Plat, Able Co lost one 3-inch gun by such fire. Baker Co reports no contact for this period, only artillery and mortar fire in the area. Charlie Co completed movement of its 2d Plat to area of the other two platoons, closing at 2030.
This period of inactivity by the enemy meant two things; another attack was in the making or a general withdrawal was about to commence. The latter was more probable, as friendly infantry successes had been greater during Aug 11 and on the 12 contact was made with the besieged and isolated battalion on Hill 314. This contact also relieved pressure on the 1st Plat, Able Co. The high light of the day was the return of 11 men who for the past 5 days have been fighting with the infantry on Hill 314. They were men from the 3d Plat which had been destroyed when their guns were overrun south of Mortain on Aug 7. The 1st Plat of Charlie Co relieved the 2d Plat of Able Co on Hill 286 at 2200 with the 2d Plat going into assembly position near their company command post. Baker Co spent the day in reorganizing the 1st and 2d Plats.
On the 13th, they moved into an assembly position. The German withdrawal had commenced and the much needed rest and reorganization period had come. Charlie Co completed the relief of the 1st Plat of Able Co, allowing them to assemble near their company command post. The rest was less than 24 hours in duration. In the late afternoon the 1st and 2d Plats of Able Co moved to an area southwest of Mortain to give close support to the 119th Infantry. The 3d Recon Plat was attached to the 2nd Plat.
On August 14 the Mortain battle ground ceased to be a scene of bitter struggle. The 30th Infantry Division published a field order attaching Able, Baker and Charlie Cos to the 117th, 119th and 120th Regiments respectively. In turn the 823d Headquarters attached the 1st, 2d and 3d Recon Plats to Charlie, Baker, Able, Cos respectively. The infantry and tank destroyers moved some 14,000 yards east of Mortain in a quick follow up of the withdrawing enemy. This move on 14 August completed the Mortain action, where defensive contributing by the tank destroyers had been great. The 823d TDB had proven it was here to stay, its losses had been many but even so they were only proportionate to the intensity of combat.