Extracts 'Battle of the Falaise Gap' (American)

Discussion in 'American' started by Pat Curran, Mar 26, 2015.

  1. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    Hi All,

    This thread has been opened to hold the bulk of American related extracts from the book 'Battle of the Falaise Gap' by Eddy Florentin.

    We have already looked at some American related extracts in the French Civilian thread titled 'Extracts 'Battle of the Falaise Gap' (Civilian)' during the advance on Avranches, so in order to avoid duplication, I will move on to chapter 2 and the activation of the 3rd US Army under George S. Patton.

    Only text in the quote boxes comes directly from the book; all other writing here is my interpretation of the wording in the book.

    -oOo-​

    George Patton had a minor irritation on the morning of the 31st July. This annoyance was caused by the behaviour of 'Willie', his bull terrier with a 'French lady dog' and was considered by Patton to be the lesser crime to that of exhuming buried Garman dead, a habit which the dog had also acquired since arriving at the highly secret CP on the Cotentin earlier in the month.

    Patton had been installed in a remote orchard to the west of Nehou, a small village between Bricquebec and St Sauveur le Vicomte under a complete press blackout. Below is the location of the CP shown on a live IGN map:

    <iframe width="625" height="350" frameborder="5" scrolling="no" marginheight="2" marginwidth="2" src="http://www.geoportail.gouv.fr/embed/visu.html?c=-1.5787530743453845,49.42707661511899&z=0.000010728836065757381&l=ORTHOIMAGERY.ORTHOPHOTOS::GEOPORTAIL:OGC:WMTS(1)&l=GEOGRAPHICALGRIDSYSTEMS.MAPS.3D::GEOPORTAIL:OGC:WMTS==aggregate(1)&permalink=yes" allowfullscreen></iframe>​
    [Live Map - Press F5 to reset]

    There are a number of monuments there today recalling the presence of this great commander, including a Sherman resting on a plinth by the side of the road - something I was not aware of until I done a 'street view' walkabout here. I wonder is this a genuine 3rd Army vehicle?
    The reason for the strict secrecy being that as far as the Germans knew, he was still in England, preparing to cross the Pas de Calais at the head of the First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG) in the 'real' invasion of France. If it became known that he was already in Normandy, the Germans would realise that it was unlikely a second crossing was planned.

    Patton did not relish his three weeks of isolation:


    At last on this fine sunny morning on the last day of July, the 3rd US Army was to be activated and he was to lead it. Willie's misdemeanours were forgotten as Patton emerged from a number of days of self imposed isolation, during which his staff saw little of their boss. He had been busy with his take over of VIII and XV Corps, but now he called a briefing in the shadow of the apple trees.

    When he appeared to open the briefing, his devoted staff cheered and clapped. His getup was immaculate according to General Brenton Wallace:


    Patton silenced the cheering staff with a wave of his arm.


    More follows...

    Regards,

    Pat
     
  2. Jpz4

    Jpz4 Active Member
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    Oct 24, 2012
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    I'll have to check when exactly the Germans (OB West) concluded a second landing was no longer plausible (it was indeed rather late though.....)

    Either way, on 27 July the German already were aware XII, XV and XX Corps had arrived in France. They also knew Patoon was in charge of 3rd Army. And in addition prisoners had told them troops of General Patton were in Normandy.
     
  3. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    Hi Niels,

    What Corps constituted the new Third Army on the 1st August?

    Eddy Florentin has a table on page 32 setting out the organisation of the American Army Groups as of 3rd August - not well laid out but it seems to read thus:

    First Army (Hodges):
    • V Corps (Gerow) S.E. of Saint-Lo
    • XIX Corps (Corbett) S.W. of Saint Lo
    • VII Corps (Collins) W. of Mortain

    Twelfth Army Group (Bradley)
    • XV Corps (Haislip) towards Fougeres

    Third Army (Patton):
    • XX Corps (Walker) Laval towards Chartres
    • XII Corps (Eddy) towards the Loire
    • VIII Corps (Middleton) Brittany

    I may have mis-interpreted the layout of the table, so I'll scan it for you tonight if there are errors in my list above. I don't understand why he appears to have an Army Group listed between First and Third Armies.

    Thanks Niels,

    Pat
     
  4. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    OK,

    Here is the scan from page 32 showing Table 1:

    [​IMG]
    Anyone able to check my interpretation of it in my previous post?

    Thanks,

    Pat
     
  5. Jpz4

    Jpz4 Active Member
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    Oct 24, 2012
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    I would say Bradley's 12th Army Group had two armies ;-)

    First Army with:
    V Corps
    XIX Corps
    VII Corps

    Third Army with:
    XV Corps
    XX Corps
    XII Corps
    VIII Corps

    (note there's a blank line between VII and XV Corps)

    I think this book deserves a link in this thread:
    http://ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-E-Breakout/index.html
    My first choice when it comes to the July and August fighting by the Americans. For a book as old as this, it has aged rather well and is still a good framework for further research.
     
  6. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    Thanks Niels,

    I understand the two Armies made up the 12th Army Group; its just the layout of the table caused me some confusion.

    We can certainly use your link to cross check the extracts from 'Battle of the Falaise Gap' as we move through it. I note the links to the images are broken but most of them are now long loose on the web in any case.

    Regards,

    Pat
     
  7. Jpz4

    Jpz4 Active Member
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    Oct 24, 2012
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    Other links that should have most images:
    http://history.army.mil/html/books/007/7-5-1/index.html
    https://archive.org/details/breakoutpursuit00blum
     
  8. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    Hi All,

    On what I take to be the evening of 31st July, following dinner at Third Army HQ, Patton decided no further time was to be wasted:


    I was interested in getting a look at this famous jeep, not fully believing that it carried a ship's horn - I was wrong :D
    [​IMG]
    The still above is from the Critical Past footage here, showing Patton visiting 7th Armoured Division commander Major General Lindsey M. Sylvester. The date cannot be too far away from our current timeline.

    VIII Corps was initially part of US First Army when it began operations in France on the 15th June, but was transferred to Patton on the 1st August. This probably is part of the reason why 'Blood and Guts' was so anxious to meet Lieutenant General Troy Houston Middleton on the evening of 31st July. Patton wanted to be sure his subordinate knew what was expected of him and the following extract appears to bear this out:


    Despite this recent surge forward, Patton wanted to impress upon his VIII Corps commander a new doctrine of speed marching on a scale not heretofore seen in the Normandy campaign:



    More follows...just going to look for those 'Selune dams' :rolleyes:

    Regards,

    Pat
     
  9. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    Hi All,

    I found two dams on the River Selune as marked on the GE extract below. Note the village of Pontaubault at upper left:
    [​IMG]
    However before we follow the book and cross the Pontaubault bridge with Patton, there are a couple of things which have caught me attention while researching the capture of Avranches.

    First is the action of William H. "Red" Whitson, of Company B, 53rd Armored Infantry Battalion, 4th Armored Division on the 31st July for which he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation reads:



    After a bit of digging, I have found a vague description of the location for this action. It comes from the bottom of page 53 of 'Patton's Vanguard: The United States Army Fourth Armored Division' by Don M. Fox:

    [​IMG]

    This sounds to be the area of the hairpin bends south of town on the Pontaubault road.

    Does anyone know the exact location of this action for which I would suspect Private Whitson was firstly recommended for a Medal of Honor.

    The next location I am seeking is this merged photo from several sources which was an original Signal Corps photo and hence I have not watermarked:
    [​IMG]
    The photo shows a number of Sherman wrecks 'near' Avranches. The page titled 'Breakout' here on the 11thcavnam.com site appears to indicate that they belong to the 8th Tank Battalion, Combat Command B, 4th Armoured Division. Their location is again vaguely described on the page thus:



    I wonder are those the twin bell towers of Notre Dame des Champs on the high ground at centre-right, where Francois Briere climbed to fly the tricolor on the 31st July?

    Anyone able to figure out the two locations?

    Thanks,

    Pat
     
  10. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    OK,

    I think I have the Sherman wrecks location :D

    It hangs on more than just the two bell towers on the horizon here but it's 1:30am and I have only just completed my screenshots so the rest of the case for this location will go up tomorrow. :cool:

    Regards,

    Pat
     
  11. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    Right, here is my theory:

    First the ground shot again - note the torn up soil in front of the foreground wreck and the 2nd wreck in the middle distance. I have labelled these 'Sherman Wreck 1' and 'Sherman Wreck 2' respectively:
    [​IMG]
    Note that the line near the bottom edge is caused by my merging two versions of this photo into one to gain maximum width - the torn up soil in front of the foreground Sherman does not extend to the full length of the wreck.

    Now have a look at this segment of footage from the Photosnormandie Film #F000141, which lasts for seven seconds and is set to loop below:

    <iframe frameborder="0" height="405" scrolling="no" src="http://ttfaloopandrepeat.appspot.com/showVideo.html?st=129&et=136&vId=rcSxDGKdcxg&l=yes&lnf=10&ap=yes" width="75%">your browser does not support IFRAMEs</iframe>​

    I stitched five stills together below to show the full extent of the ground covered. The joins are not perfect because of the changing perspective as the camera aircraft makes a turn to the north east:

    [​IMG]

    Note the curved segment of torn up soil in front and to the right front of 'Sherman Wreck 1', also the three bomb craters and the two trees. So, where is the location?

    I could find no digitised NCAP cover for the Avranches area, so the next best thing is IGN cover flown in 1947. A very good candidate location shows just across the River Sée from Avranches Railway Station:
    [​IMG]
    The three bomb craters have been filled in but their outlines are still visible in 1947. The sparsely populated apple orchard on the west side of the D911 road is also there as are two good matches for the two trees on the riverbank.

    Below is the Bing Maps finder chart for the above IGN extract:
    [​IMG]

    Not a sure thing, but its beyond my 80% certainty threshold :s

    Anyone see any weaknesses in my case?

    Regards,

    Pat
     
  12. John Szweda

    John Szweda Administrator
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    Oct 25, 2012
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    Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    Hi Pat,

    I was already pretty confident you had it when you posted the google map link already.
    Now I am 100% certain you have the right area. There is even another vehicle above and right of Sherman wreck#2 that is visible in the ground photo (right edge), and aerial Photosnormandie Film. You may want to mark that one up too

    I say very well done !

    John
     
  13. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    Thanks John,

    I missed marking that one in the excitement :D

    Press F5 to reload the page to see wreck #4 marked up. I wonder which side of the road is the 5th wreck located?

    I also wonder why they got themselves into such a tight spot - they probably had no choice with the terrain features they were faced with and, of course, hindsight is always 20/20!

    Regards,

    Pat
     
  14. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    To Continue...

    The 1st of August was a sunny day and the residents of Avranches who had not fled the fighting lined the streets as the new Third Army poured through the town on the way to Brittany,


    The 6th Armoured Division, under the command of Major General Grow, headed for Brest in a spectacular 'gallop' across Brittany. The inhabitants of tiny Breton villages had little chance to throw flowers onto the division's vehicles as they just barreled through each one as Florentin states on page 31, "...leaving only the memory of its dust-grimed faces" in its wake.

    The 4th Armoured Division, under the outspoken Major General John ('Tiger Jack') Wood, headed for Rennes, Vannes, Chateaubriant, Nantes and Angers. The American press dubbed the division 'the knife which cut Brittany'. The 8th Infantry Division provided the boots on the ground, following along in the wake of the armoured columns.

    Patton shouted at his corps commanders over the din of tank engines:


    Next came the XV Corps of General Wade H. Haislip, to complete the Third Army trust southwards as it headed for Fougeres, Mayenne and Laval. The Corps foot soldiers, the 90th Infantry Division, now a battle hardened first rate division - a far cry from battles up north in the Cotentin, passed in the direction of Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouet to the south east. The exit of Third Army from Avranches was like a giant shotgun blast from a barrel with no choke!

    Below is a map from page 403 of Chester Wilmot's 'The Struggle for Europe' which shows this clearly:
    [​IMG]

    The Germans sent every available plane to bomb the bridge at Pontaubault in a desperate day and night attempt to stem the flow.


    I was curious about this claim, so I checked this unit's After Action Report on the Combined Arms Research Library site here and found the claim as quoted in the book is correct as per the AAR. Except for a number of FW 190s which exploded in the air, crash site coordinates are given for each claim.

    It could be said that Patton was reckless in relation to his flanks, but in his defense he would have been aware from Allied intelligence that in Brittany at least, the Germans had almost no mobile forces available with which to threaten his flanks. He depended on French Resistance units ,especially strong and well armed in this part of France, to deal with bypassed pockets of resistance on the peninsula.

    In typical colourful dialect Patton left his commanders in no doubt his doctrine:


    The problem from Patton's point of view was that his own policy often left his division commanders with a fair amount of strategic freedom.


    'Tiger Jack' Wood had got his nick name from arguing both tactical and strategic points with Patton - something no other Third Army divisional commander would dare to!

    The speed of Patton's advance astonished the Germans. Florentin gives one example on page 33 where a Geram officer goes to inspect his forward posts and admonishes his men for not saluting him on arrival. The reason was that 'his' men were American GIs who promptly captured the officer.


    However, one American was worried. Middleton has lost control of his VIII Corps divisions and, being a more cautious commander than Patton, he could see the danger.


    Lieutenant General Troy Houston Middleton did not know how right he was - that was exactly what the 'other fellow' in Berlin was planning to do.

    More follows.

    Regards,

    Pat
     
  15. ddayHorsa

    ddayHorsa Active Member
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    Dec 20, 2013
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    Good location work on the Sherman's, Pat.

    See the screen grab below from the Photosnormandie film presented above:



    [​IMG]


    Do we know what the arrowed object is that is above and to the right of "Sherman Wreck 3" ? Just curious.


    Charles
     
  16. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    Don't know Charles,

    Unfortunately the price to be paid for viewing these films online is compression, which equates to loss of clarity, especially when you add in the movement of the aircraft. The best I could get in Photoshop is this extract:
    [​IMG]
    It could well be the 5th Sherman wreck of 8th TB with its turret blown off, but it looks a little smaller to me - perhaps one of their half-tracks like the one shown below on Rue La Constitution, most likely on the 1st of August as it appears to have had its Army number amended (First to Third?) as would be the case on that date when VIII Corps passed from First Army to Patton's control:
    [​IMG]
    It's heading south-east through town onto the Pontaubault road. Below is the same scene today:
    [​IMG]
    The only other thing I can think of is that the vehicle is related to the recovery of remains from the wrecks.

    I kinda suspect the curved track onto the D911 is on a ramp, so perhaps it overturned and rolled to the bottom of the slope and so is appearing as a confused jumble or perhaps I am letting my imagination run away with me - there is no evidence that the orchard was ever lower than the road as can be seen around the Peugeot garage here.

    Too many 'what ifs' Charles to answer your question as things stand - perhaps more photos or footage will give us the eureka moment :D

    Regards,

    Pat
     
  17. ddayHorsa

    ddayHorsa Active Member
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    Dec 20, 2013
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    Ok Pat,

    Thanks for the thoughts. Guess I'll keep looking around.

    I like the then-and-now photo comparison; makes me think of how much some places are preserved and kept the same over so much time, and in spite of so much destruction. Says something about the people who honor and respect the history of their homes, towns and countries.

    Charles
     
  18. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    Absolutely Charles,

    Especially when you consider how old some of those damaged buildings were. There are several bits of footage showing walls being torn down for safety reasons after the war had moved on. Some of these were rebuilt from scratch using the same stones. When you consider how they have suffered such losses in both lives and property during the Normandy campaign, the post war reconstruction is nothing short of remarkable.

    Even today, Normandy is always kept absolutely pristine and not just to keep the visitors happy; overall they have a real pride in their buildings, farms and farmhouses which is a credit to their resilience and work ethos.

    Regards,

    Pat
     
  19. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    Hi All,

    I found a couple of seconds worth of ground footage showing the two wrecks closest to the road on this British Pathe film titled "Roads to Victory" (BP Film No. 1364.23). I extracted the relevant section below. I can only confirm the last scene of the three as being 'our' wrecks at Avranches:

    <iframe frameborder="0" height="408" scrolling="no" src="http://ttfaloopandrepeat.appspot.com/showVideo.html?st=124&et=134&vId=G4FGLNpKvx0&l=yes&lnf=2&ap=yes" width="74%">your browser does not support IFRAMEs</iframe>
    [Set to Loop Twice - Press F5 to Reset]​

    The narrator is conveniently implying that the explosions are from mines being detonated intentionally; looks more like some of it at least is German shell fire coming in onto the units being filmed. He also seems to be implying that the tanks wrecks, including 'ours' at Avranches, are in fact German losses! - perhaps its for the benefit of cinema audiences who will be watching the footage. It's worth watching the full film just to hear his typical British understatements. I love these two :D



    Regards,

    Pat
     
  20. Pat Curran

    Pat Curran Administrator
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    Oct 20, 2012
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    The American story continues from page 49, Chapter 4 'Patton turns the Seventh Army'

    Not for the first time, General Bradley knew not where his Third Army commander was or how far its open left flank extended.


    Bradley was at 12th Army Group HQ at Saint-Sauveur-en-Lendelin, about half way between Periers and Coutances, dubbed 'Eagle Main' this 2nd August when he decided to track down Patton and bring him to heel. Eddy Florentin states further on that:


    I wonder did Bradley, as well as 'foreseeing' the danger, also have solid intelligence from 'Ultra' decrypts as to the impending counter-attack at Mortain? As far as I know, the work done at Bletchley Park during the War was not in the public domain in 1964 when Eddy Florentin wrote the book.

    Bradley eventually finds his subordinate after a wait at Third Army HQ when Patton appears back from his tour, "stiff with weariness and covered with dust."


    Bradley was not convinced by Patton's argument.


    Bradley now told Patton that he had already ordered his 79th Division to Fougeres.


    I had a look at Tyler Alberts 79th Infantry Division DVD to see if there was any footage of the division in August 1944. At the very end, I found that there is extensive scenes shot in Fougeres. Below is a screenshot showing a rest stop at the town sign:
    [​IMG]
    I note that very few of these 79ers in the various scenes depicted in the town are now wearing the distinctive large mesh camouflage helmet nets.


    The Allied High Command back in England appear to have being coming to the same conclusion regarding the Brittany Campaign as did Bradley when he went to visit Patton. It's unlikely the two trains of thought were separate and distinct - again I wonder as to Allied knowledge of the impending Mortain counter-attack.


    More follows.

    Regards,

    Pat
     

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