A Few Significant Events

 

La Haye du Puits, France (early July, 1944)

 

'The War As I Knew It', p. 24 "...We had heard a rumor that a Frenchman on a bicycle had pedaled through the lines out to one of our artillery positions and reported that the enemy had been using their church steeple in the village as an observation post.  Our guns proceeded to blow the steeple off the church. I never knew if this was true or not but 56 years later, in July of 2000, Joan and I visited the town. We were touring with other members of the 79th division. The church was still standing and one of its twin steeples was heavily damaged. I asked our guide why they didn’t repair the steeple. His response was startling. He said they wanted to leave it that way as reminder that the Village was liberated by the Americans, and as memorial to the 79th infantry division.  Could those rumors about the bicyclist have been true?" John Macdonald

 

"The Division Artillery unveiled what GI witnesses hailed as "the prettiest damned precision artillery in this man's war." A German artillery observation post in the city's cathedral lingered too long. A burst of artillery fire scored a direct hit on the church steeple and when the infantry entered the town hours later they found the German artillery observers sprawled in the public square.

 

During the period from July 6-7th, several attacks on areas in and around La Haye du Puits were met with fierce resistance by German forces. On July 8th, the 314th Regiment's First Battalion, supported by the 749th Tank Battalion and the 8r3th Tank Destroyer Battalion began the final assault on La Haye du Puits. Enemy fire was heavy and accurate, enemy tanks were active, but La Haye du Puits was cleared house-by- house. As the task force closed in, the bulk of the enemy defenders withdrew to a strong point in the railroad yards to make a last-ditch stand, but the main part of the town was cleared five hours and 40 minutes after the assault began. No better tribute can be paid the men of the First Battalion than the text of the Presidential Unit Citation awarded them for their part in the taking of this strong point. It was in the La Haye du Puits that Lieutenant Arch B. Hoge, Jr., of Tennessee, raised the same small Confederate flag which had been raised by his uncle over a village in France in World War I, and which had been raised by his grandfather over a town in the United States during the Civil War.

 

Mantes on the Seine River, France (late August, 1944)

 

"From the western heights commanding the Seine River valley, Mantes-Gassicourt looked like a dead city. The Air Force had battered this prime Nazi supply center relentlessly, leaving rubble smoldering in the late summer haze. Roads to and from the city were glutted with wrecked enemy supply vehicles. When the Air Forces stopped, artillery resumed. The 79th Recon Trp. knifed in and out of the city. Combining its quest for information with on-the-spot, hit-and-run missions, it destroyed four enemy gasoline trucks. The enemy was moving from the city to make large scale defense preparations in the "natural loop" of the Seine, northeast of Mantes-Gassicourt  On the morning of Aug. 19, a 314th task force pushed into the city, reported it clear. Meanwhile patrols of the 313th mopped up wooded areas and prodded the vicinity of Rolleboise  to the north. The dams bridging the Seine had been blown, but a catwalk across one still was passable for foot troops.

 

In pitch dark and driving rain, the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 313th began moving across the river supported by Cos. A and C, 304th Engr. Bn. with assault boats and rafts. By dawn, the entire regiment was dug in on the far shore of The Loop. Throughout the day, the engineer battalion worked tirelessly under sporadic enemy artillery and aerial fire to ferry across division vehicles. Corps engineers began installation of a 40-ton tread-way bridge. But with the bridge came the Luftwaffe. It was difficult to recognize this Luftwaffe as the same one that had contented itself before with an occasional bed-check. Rain and shine, high ceiling and low, it paid repeated (but unsuccessful) visits to the bridge site. Division artillery and attached ack-ack waxed fat. At first three enemy planes were shot down, then six, then eleven. At the nearby division PW cage glum-faced prisoners had a ringside seat for the one-sided engagements. But neither the revived Luftwaffe nor the first Nebelwerfer fire the division had experienced since Cherbourg could stop the 79th. By day foot troops harried the desperate enemy. By day and night artillery thundered. In a one night firing session alone Division Artillery and attached units threw a record 4600 rounds of 105mm. and 1048 rounds of 155mm.

 

For five thunderous days the enemy battered at the lone division holding The Loop. Each counterattack was spurned with staggering losses for the enemy. On August 27 the enemy uncorked his Sunday punch, a full-dress counterattack featuring everything from small arms to flamethrowers. Infantry and artillery met the assault head-on, stopping it cold. Next day the 79th was on the final objective. After customary mopping-up operations, the division passed to XIX Corps. Behind it, safely in Allied hands, was the Seine Loop, by far the most strategic bridgehead in ETO. The enemy's vaunted 18th GAF Division, pride of his Paris defenses, had been battered to bits. On the heights overlooking Mantes-Gassicourt moved burial squads, mute testimony to the awesome efficiency of the 79th Division Artillery." 

 

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