The First Month: Normandy to Avranches 

June 30th, 1944 - August 1, 1944

The 749th Tank Battalion landed on Utah Beach at night June 29th and proceeded quickly through St. Mere Eglise to the western side of the Contentin Peninsula and began moving south as the right flank of the 79th Infantry Division, First Army. This area of northwest France (Route Map 1) was known as the bocage country where hedgerows were used to separate and delineate agricultural fields of 1-3 acres in size. The hedgerows were 6-8 feet high and 10-12 feet thick. The only way to get through the hedgerows was to use explosives and that alerted the Germans to the exact point at which they could aim their mortars and artillery. The narrow roads between hedgerows were heavily mined. On the day that the 749th landed, Combat Command A of the 3rd Armored Division, VII Corps, First Army, began an operation to reclaim a 3,000 yard salient that the Germans had made into the American front at Villiers-Fossard. After two days of fighting, the CCA had lost 31 tanks. (Source: "Death Traps", by Belton Cooper, Presidio Press, 1998). The superiority of the German tanks became obvious to everyone.

The first two weeks of battle (Route Map 1) (Map 1) for the 749th was a rude shock: men learning for the first time what war was all about, tanks that were outgunned by the enemy tanks, lousy weather and marshy ground, mines, snipers, and murderous hedgerows. The baptism of fire for the 749th occurred at La Haye du Puit (Map 2) 8-10 July (see log book entries).

From July 13th until July 26th the 749th had no significant encounters with the enemy, although there were artillery exchanges and recon activity every day, and was essentially stuck in the vicinity of Lessay on the north bank of the Ay River. For most of that period, 749th tanks were practicing tank movements or were stationed in dug-out trenches, firing "indirect fire" like artillery pieces. On July 26 the famous "St. Lo breakout" began. According to other sources, the breakout began with 900 B26 bombers for over an hour, followed by 1,700 B-17 and B-24 bombers for 2 hours. Then 700 P-47 fighters came in as support for the ground attack. One of the towns virtually leveled was Marigny, about 12 miles southeast of where the 749th was then located. (Near there Lt. General Leslie McNair was killed and there were 600 casualties in the 9th Division by errant bombs). The Germans began a massive retreat and the 749th had no significant enemy contact as they moved south from July 27th to the outskirts of Laval on August 5th. The infantry did have intermittent small skirmishes with the enemy.

The intensity of the battles is indicated by dispatches reported later by US Army Headquarters:

16 July: In a report to Army Group West headquarters, Rommel reports that since June 6th his units have lost nearly 100,000 men killed, wounded or missing. His message ends with this pessimistic note: "The enemy is on the point of smashing our weak front line and penetrating deep into the interior of France."

31 July: Since June 6th, the Allies have lost 122,000 men killed, wounded or missing. The Germans have lost 114,000 killed and wounded plus 40,000 taken prisoner.

One interesting incident occurred on the July 22nd. A false "gas" alarm was raised by someone who had smelled fumes from a burning ammunition dump. The chaos which ensued was considered serious by high-level officers because of the possibility that the Germans could have used the situation to their advantage. An order was issued from Omar Bradley:

"In view of the experience of the previous evening, it has been concluded that, had the Germans had actually used gas, the physical damage to our troops could not have possibly been as disastrous as the pandemonium that resulted from the gas alarm. ...Any soldier giving the gas alarm ... is to be shot on sight by the closest available soldier."

Cities: Ste Mere-Eglise, Ste. Jacques, Fierville, Canville, Denneville, La Haye Du Puits, Angoville, Lessay, Coutances, Granville, Sartilly. 

Distance: 90 miles, 35 days.

Allied Units: 1st Army, 79th Division - 313th/314th/315th Infantry Regiments, 106th Cavalry Group, 83rd Infantry Division, 85th Recon Battalion, 79th Recon Troop, 6th Armored Division, 2nd Cavalry Group, 602nd Engineering Battalion.

German Units: 243rd Infantry Division, 243rd Artillery Regiment, 353rd Engineering Battalion, 353rd Replacement Battalion, SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment "Der Fuehrer", 352nd Engineering Battalion, 77th Division Artillery, 941st Infantry Regiment, 942nd Infantry Regiment, 920 Infantry Regiment, 921 Infantry Regiment.

Log Entries: References in Log Entries to "A", "B", "C", "D" refer to 749th Battalion Companies A, B, C, D. All names mentioned in casualty reports refer to personnel of the 749th Battalion. KIA = Killed In Action,  WIA = Wounded In Action, SWA = Seriously Wounded in Action, LIA = Lightly Wounded In Action, EM = Enlisted Man.


24 June 44: Bn alerted for movement to unknown destination somewhere in France.

29 June 44: 1330 Convoy LST's bearing Bn arrived at Utah beachhead on Normandy Coast. "B" and "C" Co's succeeded in debarking at approx 2345. Two "B" Co tanks were stuck on road off beach.

2 July: St Thomas - St Martin: Intermittent rain. "A" Co attached to 314th Infantry Regiment of 79th Division. "B" Co attached 313th. "C" Co attached to 315th.

3 July: Enemy front lines vicinity Denneville (Route Map 1)(Map 1). Weather continuous rain. Enemy fought delaying action from hedgerow to hedgerow. Area heavily mined. Shortly after jump-off, the 315th Inf Reg killed or captured most of an 80 man enemy OPL. 314th approaching SW slope of hill 121. "A" company vicinity Canville lost 4 tanks, 7 EM KIA (S/Sgt LaPorte, Cpl Etienne, T/5 Kushay, Pfc Rock, Pfc Bartko, Pvt Maddon, Pvt Miranda) and 6 wounded (Sgt Shoewalter, Cpl McGrath, Pfc Foster, Pfc Ranaldo, Pvt Finnan. One tank and crew missing: 2nd Lt Fischer, Goble, Dell Vecchia, Ledwell, Hofer. Two EM SWA, Turner and Marshall. "B" Co Cmdr (Capt Redford) while reconnoitering at front ..... was shot through the chest by a sniper. "C" Co lost one tank by bazooka fire, 3 EM KIA, Pfc Lattanzio, T/4 Seranto. (Editor: 3rd name missing)

4 July: Canville and La Maugererie. Enemy continues stubborn defense hedgerow to hedgerow. 314th reports all crossroads mined. Pfc Jacobs of Med Det seriously wounded by sniper while evacuating wounded with red cross plainly visible on helmet. CWO Caniel LWA by shrapnel.

5 July: "B" Co 2 miles north of La Haye Du Puits (Route Map 1)(Map 2) to engage enemy in the vicinity. Five enemy artillery batteries found. Advance of 313th Inf Reg impeded by defenses and enemy counter attacks. Sniper action heavy. "A" Co Lt Conway, T/5 Thomas WIA. "C" Co. near Gaugne - attached to 315th encountered very stiff resistance and heavy concentrations of 88mm guns, rocket guns, machine guns. Two tanks lost, 5 EM KIA, 1 missing in action. New type of mine - "Mustard Pot" anti-personnel.

6 July: Montgarten. AR and Teller mines encountered. "A" Co. 4 tks out of action. EM KIA, Pvt Shrake. LWA Sgt Blackburn from shrapnel. Cpl Dougherty SWA. Sgt Schumacher LWA. Lt McNeely assumes command of "A" Co. 2nd platoon "B" Co ... 314th Inf ... destroyed several rocket guns and machine gun nests ... and many infantry. 2 EM injured, one EM KIA (Sgt Westbrook) by sniper while in turret. "C" Co 1 EM KIA and EM LWA (Fort) going to front ... to retrieve body. Capt Simmons  ... LIA. Lt Martin assumes command "C" Co.

7 July: Montgarden. (Route Map 1)(Map 2) Weather rainy. Enemy bitterly contested all attempts to advance and counterattacked with several tanks and a Bn of infantry, preceded by heavy artillery. 313th reports knocking out three tanks. "B" Co, 1st Platoon in support of 314th hedgerow to hedgerow ....one tank out of action in marsh, 5 tanks out of action stuck in hedgerow. Tanks out of action were guarded by crew members ...EM SWA (Cpl Cash) trapped in tank overnight. "C" Co. ...German Mark VI (Tiger) was destroyed ... at 20 yard range. 1 EM KIA (Sgt Cox) killed by sniper. Co Commander Capt Hartzell and entire crew missing in action. "D" Co ...Mission to hunt snipers in support of 314th. One tank out of action by Teller mine. Driver T/5 D.C. Wells KIA and T/5 Karcxewski SWA.

8 July: La Haye Du Puits. During the night enemy retrieved their damaged vehicles. Area heavily mined and buildings booby-trapped. In the afternoon, 314th supported by 749th Tank Bn launched attack on La Haye du Puits. "A" Company attacked (8 tanks) at 1500 hrs with 1st Bn 314th from 1 mile north of city; 2 tanks knocked out by Teller mines.  "C" Co attacked from the east at 2000 hrs ... 2 tanks knocked out. Bn Cmdr 1st Bn 314th followed tanks and set up GP. EM LWA T/5 Ayres, shot self in hand with submachine gun while dismounting tank. "B" Co. with 1 plat attacked at 1600 hrs from the west of the city using only 5 tanks. Lt. Woods slightly injured by sniper shot through helmet but continued ... 3rd Platoon bogged down in mud. Pfc McDonald covered other tank crews by manning his tank gun after crawling over 60 yards of open field exposed to heavy and small arms fire. "D" Co lost 1 tank; I EM SWA, 2 EM injured and evac. No anti-tank guns encountered, only snipers. 30 caliber machinegun fire from tanks sprayed all hedges, buildings, and windows. 75mm tank guns leveled some buildings, destroying machine gun emplacements.

9 July: La Haye du Puits (Route Map 1)(Map 2) 315th advanced 500 yards at south of town ... Co I  used hand grenades at close range. New weapon believed used today. Flat trajectory gun shooting a projectile with greater concussion.... results in a cloud of black smoke ... fumes similar to kerosene. Three "A" tanks attached to "C" are shelled in bivouac at 2230 hrs. Co Comdr and ass't gunner (Lt Martin, Pvt E.R. Smith) wounded ... evac. "C" Co tank hit by 88mm south of Montgarden - two EM, Sgt Clements, Pvt Herzog wounded, two others in crew, T/4 Wilcoxen, Pvt Roos, hospitalized for shock. "B" Co. One Co. of 314th Inf surrounded by Germans. Tanks called and ... including foot recon by "B" company drove the enemy out. Message left for Lt. Grisbey by Sgt Clements:

" I got one tank and one 88mm gun before they blew mine out from under me. I got the gun that got us. Either my gunner or ass't gunner got out. I'm not sure which one for he was gone before I could turn around. I couldn't find him for it was plenty hot. I'll be back in a few days, so give them hell until I get back - them sons-of bitches."

10 July: La Haye du Puit. 315th ... attacked from 700 yds N of LD. Hedgerows showered with machine gun fire and 75mm HE. 314th met determined resistance … primarily small arms fire, mortars. "C" Co ... mission to clean out heavy machinegun concentrations. Tank with bulldozer attached initiated and its operation was successful on hedgerows. "B" Co all 6 tanks, which were stuck on hedgerow on previous day’s operations, recovered. "C" Co one EM IMA (Lawlor) from mortar shrapnel.

11 July: Hierville-Angoville. Patrols found 32 dead Germans and several graves. "A" Co proceeded on road not cleared of mines by Engineers. Opposition encountered on detour in form of anti-tank guns, machine gun fire, rocket guns. Tanks could not fire for fear of firing on friendly troops; tanks withdrew. "B" Co. attached to 314th used 2 tanks to wipe out machinegun nests, 23 prisoners taken as a result of tanks' appearance. “D” Co sent to area in rear of 315th , 2nd Bn, to clean up pockets of resistance.  Pvt Melton, SWA and evac. "C" Co One tank knocked out at close range by 88mm or rocket gun. EM KIA (Cpl Norell), WIA (Sgt Adams). Lt Ellsworth (CO) injured by shrapnel, evac.

13 July: Beauvis. "A" Co 5 tanks attacked toward Angeville. 3 tanks out of action from rocket or rifle grenades. One tank in marsh. 5 EM KIA S/Sgt O'Bryant, Sgt Bradfield, Cpl Weakley, Cpl Gammons [Editor: family member told me that Thomas Gammons was reported as MIA and WIA via a second government telegram after initial telegram that reported he was KIA] , Pvt Bryan. 2 EM LIA T/5 Lane and Pvt Decker. Tank comdrs reported ... Inf did not follow up the tanks in the attack. Five miniature tanks (Doodlebugs) were found in 106 sector (106th Cavalry Group).

14 July: Lessay: North of Ay river. (Route Map 1)(Map 2) Enemy booby trapped a dead American, injuring an Engr.

16 July: Lessay: North of Ay river. Patrols of 315th fired on as they tried to cross the river. "C" Co shelled heavily in bivouac. EM KIA T/5 Haskell, EM DOW Pvt Jacoberger, 2 EM WIA Cpl Baker, T/5 Heller).


18 July: Lessay: North of Ay river. One Plt of “A” Co practiced tactics of hedgerow fighting with 315th. Close communications between tanks and infantry being strived for.

19 July: Lessay: North of Ay river. Two patrols of 315th were able to cross the river. Drew heavy MG and rifle fire. Enemy continues to hold bridgehead just N of bridge at Lessay. Artillery fire heavy at night.

20 July: Lessay: North of Ay river. One patrol of 315th crossed the river and penetrated 500 yards. More fighting at bridgehead at Lessay. Heavy concentration of Teller and S mines. “C” Co attached to 83rd Division, moved to area NE of La Haye du Puits.

21 July: Enemy front lines S bank of Ay River, Patrols of 315th were able to cross the river E and W of Lessay bridge. West patrol penetrated several hundred yards and met considerable opposition. East patrol advanced only a few yards before running into a S-mine field. The 314th succeeded in getting two patrols across the river. Artillery and mortar fire was sporadic during the night.

22 July: Lessay: North of Ay river. A false gas alarm was spread in other sectors. Installation of remote controls and other radio sets for communications between tanks and Inf team. Pvt Price, previously MIA, returned. Had been fighting with various Inf Bn.

23 July: Lessay: North of Ay river. 106th Calvary patrolled south of the river. Artillery fire heavy at night.  One patrol went about 2 miles into enemy territory and reported seeing only two sentries. One German patrol was seen N of the river. Artillery fire was heavy during the night.. Enemy defending from prepared positions S of the river. One ME109 seen in the Div sector late in the evening.

24 July: Enemy units in contact.A reliable PW reported a new "igniter" which activates the Teller mines 35 Stahl", "Re", and "'43 Pilz" so that any attempt will explode the mine.Companies B and D plus Headqtrs camouflage painted by 603 Engr Bn.

26 July: Lessay: [Editor: St. Lo breakout began on July 26. Germans began a massive retreat.] North of Ay river. Patrol from 3rd Bn 315th reported the annihilation of 8 man German outpost. The enemy fired an unusually high number of flares last night. Enemy aircraft dropped mg. flares during darkness and thereafter artillery engaged in vicinity of flares. “A” Co fired 1600 rds 75mm indirectly as artillery. “B” Co fired indirectly during the day, then moved to support 314th in attack in 8th Division sector. "C" Co attached 83rd Div ... one tank lost to bazooka fire. KIA S/Sgt Stallard, WIA Sgt Lantz, 5 EM WIA T/5 Barrett, Pfc. Troutman, Pfc. Pumillo, Pvt Burnett.

25 July: Lessay: Enemy units in contact. Patrols of 315th observed a large group of Germans. 314th reported a patrol clash on their left between the enemy and a patrol of the 83rd  Division. Co's "A" and "B" fired indirectly as ordered. All tanks complete with crews.A reliable POW

26 July: Lessay: All three Bns of the 315th had patrols south of the Ay river; 3rd battalion reported annihilation of 8-man German outpost. The enemy fired an unusually high number of flares last night. Enemy aircraft mg flares and immediately after enemy artillery fire engaged targets in vicinity of flares. "A" Company fired 1600 rounds of 75mm indirectly. :B" Company fired indirectly during the day. Moved to assembly area at 2000 hours preparing to support 83rd Division sector. Due to evidence of mines "B" Company preferred not to advance during the night."C" company committed to action in 83rd Division sector. Lost one tank to bazooka fire. One EM KIA (S/SGT Stallard), five EM WIA (Sgt Lantz, T/5 Barrett, Pfc Torutman, Pfc Pumillo, Pvt Burnett). "D" Company no activity.

27 July: 314th met some resistance near Battiere. AP mines impede progress. 315th unable to cross AY river due to mine fields. The 106th Cav crossed the river about 1945 hours without opposition. After clearance, 315th entered Lessay at 2130, reporting heavy artillery and mortar fire. Shelling continued during the night. 749th "B" Co went to an ever-watching, hull-down position, prepared to support 314th by fire or fire and movement.

28 July:  Scattered groups of enemy troops picked up as Div advanced to the South. 106th met light resistance in its zone. Captured documents told of new container used by Luftwaffe for dropping messages - shaped like a bomb and colored red . ... they carry important and urgent information. 


29 July: Coutances: (Route Map 1) (Map 3) Patrol of 315th went to a bridge SW of town. Bridge under enemy artillery fire. "C" Company released from 83 Inf Div, reattached to 79th div.

30 July: Countances. "C" Co released from 83rd Inf Div.

31 July: 79th Recon advanced to Sartilly. No enemy contact for 749th.

  1 Aug: Regiments started forward ... following 6th Armored Division. No enemy encountered.

Editor: My Uncle talked a lot about the first few weeks in combat. He mentioned the noise, the difficulty of communications, hedgerows, mines, and adjusting to the sight of dead bodies. He especially mentioned the heavy air and artillery attacks at night. What were the first few weeks like for you?

Niemeyer: The first week or so was more or less chaos. It was very rainy and the tanks had difficulty in getting from the LST's and off the beach. Many tanks slid off the road and into ditches. It took a week or so to realize where we were and to get organized. We could here shells exploding, but we didn't get into combat for a week or so.

 A good deal of the time I had to listen on the radio to know what was going on because the Captain (Redford) was out of the tank doing something else. It was hard to adjust to the constant threat of artillery and bombs coming from  everywhere and not knowing whether or not you should move to another location. I personally was getting news of who was fighting and who was getting hurt via the radio. It seemed guys were getting hurt very frequently.

Captain Redford was hit by a sniper early on [Editor: 3 July near Canville], but came back sometime later [September 17]. I didn't know about it until I heard about it on the radio.

We would run into stiff resistance and fight hard for a day or so, then travel for a few days before another battle broke out. I don't remember what would happen to all the dead soldiers except that they would decompose in a hurry; you could smell them when you drove your tank past them. They must have been there for days. They would get picked up only after the battle had moved on, so we didn't see it happen.

When the artillery barrages or bombings would occur, I always felt safer in a tank rather than being outside. But quite often we would find a concrete storm cellar in a house and would hide in there.

Baker: Noise. At times it was dunning. When you’re under a barrage and you're lying there trying to tell if the next one is going to get you. There are differences in the sound of shells. When the incoming whine of the shell gets louder and louder, it will hit somewhere away from you. But when the whine suddenly stops - watch out! It is going to land near you. It is strange how you can feel safe hiding in a small shed or a tent, when in fact it would not help you at all if the shell lands close enough.

Normally, we did not fire at individuals, but sometimes we did in the fields and hedgerows - rocks piled up at the ends of fields to heights of 15 feet, overgrown with thickets of bushes. Germans got behind these hedgerows and fired just like in the war between the States. You couldn't drive your tank over or through them. The roads between them were just wide enough for wooden carts and were heavily mined. The mines were often set so that only the weight of a tank would set them off (allowing trucks and jeeps to pass over without tripping the mine). The damage would mostly affect the drivers and the assistant gunner in the front of the tank. Very quickly the tanks were outfitted with steel plates on the bottom to prevent the mines from blowing up easily into the tank from the bottom. Bulldozers and tanks outfitted with "forks" were used to get through the hedgerows. It was suicide to try to go down the narrow road alongside the hedgerows.

Our most common opposition was anti-tank guns, long barrel and high velocity. I remember an occasion when we were going down a road between two hedgerows with a platoon of troops. The first tank hit a mine, blew off the tread, and blocked the road so nothing else could get by. And the Germans were shrewd. They immediately hit the treads of the last tank with an anti-tank gun, thereby making all five tanks useless - a shooting gallery. One of the troop commanders in that incident went into shell shock because he had lost so many troops and was wounded himself. Everybody has their own breaking point.

There is always the first time you realize that someone is shooting at you individually. In my case we had pulled into a field and pulled a camouflage net over the tank. Then I heard what sounded like a nest of bees zinging around my head. Someone was shooting at me! This was now a personal war. I dove behind the tank until the firing stopped.

It is hard for people to believe that there is very little noise inside a tank. All the boom and bang is outside the tank. Even the noise of the tread is very light. The noise of the empty casing hitting the floor of the tank after it is fired is louder than the actual noise of the firing. Inside the tank there was very little disorder. You were well trained and everybody did their job well. The tank commander used his feet to tap on the shoulders of the assistant driver, and you had well-understood signals.

The tank is an offensive weapon so we were constantly moving forward: take out a machine-gun nest, destroy a building with snipers. Tanks are always at the front of what is happening. And we had all we needed to do the job. Plenty of food and cigarettes; We usually had cold rations. We felt sorry for the walking troops so we would keep our heater going in the tank and make coffee for them.

One of the greatest shocks occurs when somebody you knew got killed. In my case it was Johnny Karcxewski, an assistant driver (see 7 July). I had trained with him. He was in the lead tank when the bottom of his tank was blown out. I went over to the tank and helped get him out. There was nothing left below his thighs. He said "I'm not going to make it."

I remember seeing soldiers heaped up like cords of wood behind a building, awaiting identification and pickup. Hands and faces frozen in grotesque positions. Those things you remember. And most people I knew had this opinion: I don't want to be half dead. All the way or nothing. It's all so astounding. There are indeed no atheists at the front. A tank commander we named "turret" ,so named because he said many times that he would never stick his head out of the tank because he knew he would get shot. The one time I saw him poke his head out of the tank a shell exploded nearby and took his head right off.

Kinchloe: In the first few days (3 July) Redford was hit in the chest by a sniper. Rumor had it that the bullet was an American 45. Redford had no friends in the unit, whereas Captain Woods was liked by everybody.

The first 2-3 weeks were pretty hectic, especially with the hedgerows. We didn't know what to expect. When you went over a hedgerow, you had the belly of your tank exposed to the enemy. We lost quite a few tanks because of that. They came up with a device to put on the front of the tank that would help get through the hedgerows instead of up and over them.

The noise was terrible, especially when the Germans threw in the artillery. Dead animals everywhere: horses, cows. The first few days we couldn't eat because of the smell, but eventually we got used to it.  

Communications between the tanks and the ground troops was very difficult until they put radios on the back of the tank so soldiers could come up to the back of the tank and talk on a radio to those inside the tank.

One of the worst things about driving a tank was seeing. You could see a little bit, but when you were buttoned up in battle, you relied on the guy on top to tell you where you were and where you were going. When you weren't fighting you could open your hatch and stick your head out. In the summertime they were ovens and in the winter they were iceboxes. Nighttime driving you followed the guy in front of you. He has taillights you could see at 50 feet. If you got further behind than that, you were lost. We were driving through a town one night and I was following the guy in front of me. I thought I was doing OK until all of a sudden his lights went out. Well, I thought he had gotten away from me, so I stepped on the gas. I looked left and saw the lead tank going left down a side street, and then looked straight ahead and saw a building. I managed to lock the left tread, spin around, and miss the building.

The noise in a tank was terrible. The only reason you could hear inside the tank was because you wore a headset; you couldn't talk to the guy next to you without it. When you fired the gun it was a terrible noise. We were setting up a defense one night and an artillery shell hit the front of the tank and exploded. That rattles your gearboxes. We had sandbags covering the tank and the shell just cleared all of them off the tank. Wiped the front clean.

There was a Captain Hartsell who said "See you guys in Paris" and took off with a tank and crew (See 7 July above). Later they found the tank with three graves nearby. Later it was learned that two of the guys were taken prisoner. Hartsell was a Texan who thought he could beat the whole German army.

Our first casualty was on July 6 , a Sgt. Westbrook, shot by a sniper in a church steeple. Sgt Payne, who was then in Sgt Westbrook's tank, carried Sgt Westbrook back to our lines. After that the first thing that we would do when we entered a town was knock off the church steeple. On that same day my tank was called to the front to knock out a machine gun nest. Our tank went between two hedgerows and located the sniper, but before we could knock it out we rolled over two mines and blew our tank up. We got out of the tank and headed back to our lines and the Germans came out of hiding and went back with us. On that day, Sgt Lee was our tank commander, Unziker was the gunner, Hummer was the driver, I was the assistant driver, and Hook was the loader. Someone in another tank got hurt, and Hummer left our tank to fill in that spot. I became driver, Hook took my spot, and a new guy named John Bounds took over as loader.

On the next day one of our tanks got stuck in a marsh. Lester Cash got out of the tank with his grease gun and saw some Germans coming at them. His machine gun wouldn’t fire, and Lester got hit three times by German bullets, first in the knee, then in the hand, and finally in the head. I think it was MacDonald who finally drove off the Germans with the 30 caliber machine gun on the tank, and the other guys could get out of the tank; got a Bronze or Silver Star for that. When the men finally got back to their tank a few days later, it had a bazooka hole right in the front armor plate. Some years later Lester told me that he had to learn to talk all over again.

Tribbey: I got hit before St. Lo at a place whose name I can't remember, like a railroad station. I got hit in the face and ear with small pieces of shrapnel from a tree burst. I was in a small hole with a guy from Massachusetts, a replacement. We had all been caught outside of our tanks. He had said "They're getting awfully close. The next one's going to be in this hole." I said "I'll count the shells and we can run for it." I did and we started running across the road. I went one way and he went another. I jumped into another hole and an incoming shell hit a tree and fragments showered down on us. The other guy got hit real bad. I was never out of action.

The worst I had was when I got into some bad wine at the Seine River. I spent two weeks in a field hospital along with a few other guys.

Before the breakout at St. Lo, the Germans usually recovered their dead and wounded. But after the breakout this stopped happening because there were thousands of them. It was quite an astonishing site to see sometimes. Some of the prisoners were in their sixties. They also used kids. The Germans’ best snipers were 14-15 year-olds; they'd put them in a tree with a box of ammunition and tell them not to come down until they were out of ammunition. And the kids believed them.

Most of what you needed to know to survive in combat you learned in the first 48 hours, or you weren't there to survive. The manual for your tank said if your tank was disabled, you should take your guns and fight from the ground. A guy named Reader McDonald did this. I talked to him in Englewood. He's an Episcopal minister now. I asked him if he would do that again and he said "You gotta be crazy." He made it work, but he never did it again. (Editor: perhaps this refers to the note in the logbook 7 July.)

I remember one thing about the first few weeks - at night we would gather the tanks into a bivouac about 200 feet in front of the 105mm howitzers. What a noise. But even worse was the shells lobbed in by the Germans which were aimed at the artillery but which fell short and hit near us.

Westbrook had his head sticking out of the tank and was hit by a sniper, right between the eyes. This was in the hedgerows.

I had the pleasure of seeing General Omar Bradley, John Montgomery the English General, and Charles DeGaulle at Avranches and Granville. They were standing on the Jersey Islands across the bay from us during a conference they had. I saw Patton three times during the War. One time we were sitting alongside the road during a rain, waiting behind a couple of gas trucks and when Patton's jeep came by he hollered a few obscenities and yelled at the truck drivers to get the hell out of his way. A few soldiers got into the trucks and moved them off to the side of the road, putting them into a 3-4 foot ditch. We later pulled them out after Patton passed. But at least he was out where a lot of generals don't go.

I met General Patch in the Hartz mountains, and I remember him issuing an order that all men who can find a place to get out of the weather should be allowed to do so. A soldier's general.

When we joined Patton's onslaught, I remember a day where we had to stop for fuel three times. Normally we stopped for fuel only once, at night. We would get territorial maps - which showed backhouses, farm buildings, the whole works. We were going so fast that by the time the maps caught up with us, they were of no use. Patton said that as long as we could take this land, we'll do it. We don't need no damn maps. If they had let him go after those Russians, I might not be talking to you, but it would have been a better world.

Some of the rations we had to eat were OK, others were not too good. D-rations were terrible. The 10-in-1's were pretty good; they were called 10-in-1's because they could feed one guy for 10 days. They included sausages, bacon, roast beef, Hines pineapple/rice pudding. We used a Coleman stove to heat them up.

One time Lt Kaufmann and I were getting ready to have some fresh eggs when the Germans began to lob in some 81mm mortars - they usually came in groups of three. By the 2nd shell I was under the tank, but I didn't break any of the three eggs I had in my hand.

Near St Lo we ran into a potato field. German shelling in those fields brought up lots of potatoes. I had saved some bacon grease, so I peeled some potatoes and made some French fries. Pretty good.

In Croismare I found a chicken and started to cook it when the apparent owner - a woman - brought in the Company Commander and showed him that I was cooking one of her chickens. Whoops! The government had to pay up in those circumstances.


Kohler: It was pure hell when we got there. We had to follow each other off the beach; I lost our tank in mud. We had to go a few miles before we contacted any enemy. When we did, all hell broke loose. It wasn't very pleasant. Since I had cover over me, I was pretty safe. The guys who got the brunt of it was the tank commanders. When we hit the hedgerows we had to spend time driving around them. It seems like we were mixed up in it (combat) all the time. You never knew where they where coming from. As long as they (artillery) went overhead, you were OK. When they hit close ..... I was always scared poopless. I didn't know whether to go home or not. It was rough.

I was the driver of the 3rd tank in the 2nd platoon of "B" Company. I think Denneny was my first tank commander when I began as assistant driver.

It was pitch dark at night. You didn't know who you were talking to, who was coming at you. Some of those Germans could speak good English.

You couldn't get used to it. All you saw was what was visible in a 2" X 4" periscope.

The noise? Couldn't hear much of it because of the helmet we wore.

Yes, the howitzers at night were pretty noisy. You had to sleep pretty light over there. We slept both inside and outside the tank. Either underneath it or on the back. Inside it was hard to sleep because the seat wasn't any bigger than a plate.

I saw Westbrook get hit. He was about 100 yards from me. I saw a sniper in a tree shoot him. I asked my commander to back up a little because I think I could have gotten the sniper from where I was at. I was the assistant driver at that time so I had a 30 caliber in front of me. The commander said no, just forget it.

The only thing I remember about Redford is that he didn't make the first day of battle because somebody shot him in the back.

I had five tanks knocked out from under me.

Troutman: The tide was in on Utah Beach and we landed in 3-4 feet of water. The water was almost up to my hatch.

When we first arrived "A" Company was trying to take a hill, but because the ground was so slippery they couldn't make their way, and that made them a set-up for bazookas. (Editor: perhaps 3 July) They got shot up pretty bad. Because of that, I think, we started putting sandbags on the tank. The bags wouldn't stop a Tiger tank shell, but they were effective against bazookas. Word was that General Patton ordered the sandbags taken off when he saw them, but everybody put them back on when he wasn't around.

The only town of any size that had been captured before we got there was St. Mere Eglise. I remember going through there. Then we took the next town, La Haye du Puit. That was tough territory. All hedgerows. If you went up over the hedgerows, they would put a shell right through the belly of the tank. In other places they had these sunken roads with trees on both sides. It just wasn't tank territory. The roads were just wide enough for one vehicle. I don't know which was worse, the roads or the hedgerows.

I wasn't too scared the first few weeks. We didn't see many Germans in the hedgerows. It was more scary when you got out in the open and you could see all those German tanks and saw all the artillery coming in. I was more scared toward the end of the war.

It was especially hard when you saw dead people whom you knew, who you had trained with. Saw a lot of dead animals. Sometimes so heavy on the roads that you had to wait for a bulldozer to move them out of the way.

I lost about six tanks in all - my first was on Utah Beach. It was a watery area off the beach and over the hills. The area where they lost so many paratroopers. We walked back to ordnance which was just a little ways down the beach. Got a new tank, which we lost a few weeks later by artillery fire. We went back to ordnance again and there was our first tank. All fixed up and painted. We asked for it but they said it was going to another outfit. The third one was lost to a land mine. The fourth one was to an 88mm antitank gun in September or October.

My crew: McFadden was gunner, Oleson was tank commander, Frankie Cafero - little Italian boy - was the loader.

I drove for Lt Oleson, platoon leader. Then I drove for Sgt Denneny, the staff platoon leader. I drove for Sgt Rosencrantz when Lt Oleson was gone.

We were sitting in an orchard when General Patton showed up and started directing traffic. That was something to see.

26 July in the log book - That was my brother. We signed up in the Army together. He was drafted and I enlisted if they would let us go together. He was in "C" company. He was the loader in his tank. He was responsible for loading the coaxial machine-gun. The gunner fired it, but he had to load it. Somehow a live cartridge was ejected into the cartridge bag and exploded. He must have been bent over because he was hit in the back of the neck. He wasn't evacuated. He made it through the whole war.

We sat for about two weeks outside of St. Lo; they used us as artillery. They dug out some ditches and elevated our tanks so we could fire 18-20 miles. That was sort of a rest period. Just sit and fire off a round every once in a while. When the planes began to come over for the attack, we just laid on our backs and watched the planes come over.

McFadden: On the first or second day there we were following a jeep's tail-lights down a narrow road - that was the only way to get anywhere in blackout conditions. It was sort of like Holland with their dikes; they had flooded both sides of the road with water. My driver Troutman tried to swerve around a truck that was coming toward him and our tank slid off the road and into the muck. Thirty tons of tank. Fortunately some soldiers found a large plank and laid it across the water so we could at least get out of the tank. We stood there and watched the tank slowly slip out of sight. The bad part was what we had in the tank. Lt Oleson had about a dozen bottles of liquor, my mother had sent me some chocolate bars, a carton of Jell-O. We were going to trade with the French people. All down the drain.

Our first real battle was La Haye du Puit. We really caught hell there. A couple of our officers were killed real early. Sgt Westbrook was the first. We were all young guys drafted off farms and cornfields. The only real soldiers were the "cadre" brought from the state of Washington. They were dispersed among all the companies and platoons. The tank commanders were the first to go because they had to stick their head out of the tank. Then they would make a gunner or a driver the tank commander.

The noise was very loud, but we had on what looked like football helmets , and that muffled a lot of the noise. Of course when we fired the cannon it recoiled back into the tank. There was a shield around the back of the cannon; the cannon recoil went almost up to the radio at the back of the tank.

Redford and Donaldson were both West Point men.  

Hedgerow Near Canville

Rosencrantz: One day in the hedgerow area we went into a field that was marshy and all of our tanks got stuck. Took a couple of days to get them out. (7 July) As we were running back to safety, one of our guys fell into a ditch and got  soaked. We had on those blanket-lined jackets and pants. He was so soaked he could  hardly run. We managed to get into an infantry foxhole for a while. Didn't stay there long, though.

I don't know what some of our leaders were thinking. Sometimes I couldn't believe the predicaments they got us into. That was no country for tanks. And we never trained with infantry, always tanks against tanks. We had a hell of a time for a while learning how they fought.  It's a wonder we didn't shoot each other. These little fields were 5-10 acres, surrounded by hedgerows. We got to the point where we just fired into the hedgerows whether there was anybody in them or not.

One time we were going through a small town and the Engineers out in front of us looking for mines. The Germans began shooting at them, so they left. We had to go it alone. We came right up on a building and there were 5 Germans in it. Luckily they were afraid and didn't do anything.

The day Westbrooke got hit, my tank was put out of commission in the hedgerows. A battery cable was broken, so we had to abandon the tank. Later that afternoon, when they brought Westbrooke's tank back with him in it, I got in his tank and went back to the front. Payne took over for Westbrooke. Denneny was Platoon Sergeant at that time. I think the Platoon Sgt was tank #3. When Denneny was killed I became Platoon Sergeant.

When we started Wendorf was my driver, Lombardi was the gunner, Countryman was my assistant driver initially but he just quit. He was wounded a little but not badly. We tried to go over a hedgerow, but a battery cable was sheered off. We had to bail out and leave the tank. Countryman was hit by artillery.  A guy named Renz took over for him. I don't think Renz had ever been in a tank until then. Osterhout was my loader; he couldn't get along with anybody so they put him with me.

Your uncle Willie was a tank commander. But I know that Sgt Merrit was in the 1st Platoon.

Myers: When we landed it was windy and rainy. They were trying to get us off the beach. Tanks and trucks were running off the road. We lost some guys right off the beach. A guy from California - Westbrooke - was the first one killed. Sgt Death was asked to take over for Westbrooke and he wouldn't do it. Said "I'm a First Sergeant, I don't know anything about being a tank commander." That's where he got a bad name with all the guys. I can't think now who did take over.

Editor: Wasn't it Payne?

Myers: Yeah, Hubert Payne from West Virginia.

My tank had Penner (Asst Driver), Lombardi (gunner), Denneny (commander), Dedrick (loader), and myself (driver). In battle Lombardi wouldn't kill anybody, so Penner was made gunner and Lombardi was made asst. driver. When we were in Camp Schenk, they weren't going to take Dedrick overseas because of his educational background - he was almost illiterate. Redford asked who would take him, and I said I would. Dedrick would be looking at comic books while he was loading a gun in battle. Later he got hit by a recoil, blood running down his face, and he asked me if he could get a Purple Heart. I said "yeah, man, we'll get you one." His parents were in their seventies when he got into the service. An old farmer from Goshen, Indiana.

Editor: When you took over for Denneny, did you keep all the guys in that tank, or did you move to a different crew?

Myers: I kept the same guys. That's when I got Weaver as a driver. I called him "dumber than a box of rocks" because I'd tell him to go right, he'd go left. I'd say left, he'd go right. Ran us off a road and turned us over once.

My brother was a tail gunner in a B25, so every time planes would go overhead I wondered if he was in one of them.

Early in the war, just as we were breaking out of the hedgerow country, an artillery shell blew a hole right in the gun barrel. We went back to ordnance - about 20 miles back - and stayed there overnight. There were some brand new tanks with 76mm. I thought "Man, I got myself a V-8." But they wouldn't give us one. They said the new tanks were for the Free French Army.

Breakbill: There was still some firing on the beaches when we landed. I think I was like a lot of guys - too dumb to be as scared as we should have been.

I think I was driving for Lt Oleson when we landed, but I wouldn't swear to it. All I can remember is that the Tank Commander was a lieutenant.  I took Meritt's place when he was made Lieutenant.  As far as I remember, Cooley wasn't a tank commander when we landed in Europe. I remember Rosencrantz being in the 1st Plat.

The hedgerows were killers. They'd turn the belly of the tank up. Lots of guys got hit right in the belly early on.

Editor: One of the things my uncle talked about a lot was the German tanks. He said everybody learned early on that our tanks were ineffective against the Mark V (Panther) and Mark VI (Tiger) tanks of the Germans. I read a book by Belton Cooper, who was with the 3rd Armored Division, "Death Traps" in which he plainly states that the weakness of our tanks vis-a-vis the Germans was a major problem in the War. He seemed to confirm what my uncle and others have told me, i.e., that the German Tiger tanks could knock out an American tank from 5000 yards, but the American tanks were lucky to knock out a German tank from 1000 yards, and then only if it was hit from the side or rear. From the front, anything longer than 300 yards was a waste of time. My uncle Willie also told me that the German guns were rifled, whereas the American tanks were not.

Breakbill: We got a real song-and-dance on German tanks. We were told that they couldn't pierce our tanks and that our guns could pierce their tanks. It was just the other way around. That 88mm gun the Germans had would beat anthing we had 40 ways from Sunday. Their gunpowder came in rolls or sheets; they came in bundles, and they could cram as much powder in there as they wanted to. That gun fired like a rifle compared to our lobed shells. The only hope we had was to knock off a tread or crack the barrel; penetrating the tank was out of the question. I heard a story that the guy who invented that 88mm gun tried to sell it to the Americans, but they wouldn't buy it so he sold it to the Germans. If the Germans had had enough fuel to go with their guns, the war would have been a different story.

Tribbey: All the German tanks were very big. The Tiger was accurate at 4500 yards. The 76mm high velocity we used later on was pretty good, but the 75mm we landed with wouldn't knock out a wheelchair. The halftracks we had were an accident waiting to happen; their guns wouldn't stop anything. We called them a "purple heart" wagon.

Baker: The Germans had better equipment than we did. They had the 88mm, high velocity guns and we were trying to oppose them with the short barrel 75mm. Our advantage was that for every tank disabled, we had 10 in waiting. Germany was very short of replacements.

Kinchloe: When we were set up close to a river we were called up to the front one morning and were sent out to drive the Germans out of a little town. We spotted a tank leaving the town and heading for the woods. We fired thirteen shells at him; the first one missed and the next twelve bounced off the tank like we were firing a peashooter. Just before he entered the woods he turned and fired and the shell dug a trench right next to our tank. The 88mm German tanks could fire a shell that would go right through one of our tanks. When we fired at the German tanks, we could be anywhere from a city block to 2000 yards. The Germans could be effective from 5000 yards or more.

Kohler: Their tanks could knock us out from 3000 yards. We could knock them out only from the side or back. Around the sprocket or the track.

McFadden: We quite often would send out our fast, light tanks first to see if their were any Tiger tanks in the vicinity before our bigger, slower tanks would get involved. Later on , when we got the 76mm rifled tank we could handle our own with the Tiger tanks. The barrel was twice as long. I think maybe we didn't have rifled barrels on the tanks that we used in Texas, but I remember during the war when we cleaned our barrels that the barrels were rifled.

The casing (or powder) part of the German shell was about 3/4 of the total, whereas for our shell the casing was only 1/2 - 2/3 of the total shell. So we had a lot less gunpowder, thus less velocity.

Before the 76mm we could only be effective at a distance of a football field. That's why we used smoke shells so frequently.

Myers: TD's had 76mm. Our tank guns were 75mm; we called them pop-guns, anti-personnel guns. The 76mm was a 3 inch naval gun and the barrel was rifled.  I hit a German tank 11 times with a 75mm - nothing. I tried to back out of there but he shot one shell and knocked the turret ring off our tank. The German 88's shot a flat trajectory. It was an all purpose gun, also used for anti aircraft fire. And the Germans would get you if you came to a stop. But they weren't very good at hitting a moving target. But if you stop - you were dead meat. That's why we tried to stay hidden all the time.