Mortain 1944

Unternehmen Lüttich (Operation Liège} was the codename given to a German counter-attack during the Battle of Normandy, which took place against US positions near Mortain, France from 7 to 13 August 1944. Lüttich is the German name for the city of Liège in Belgium, where the Germans had won a victory in the early days of August 1914 during WWI. The offensive, also referred to as the Mortain counterattack, had the objective of breaking through the US lines and advance to the coast to capture the city port of Avranches at the base of the Cotentin peninsula which was a US Army major communication and supply hub.

From 25 to 31 July 1944, Operation Cobra, the US 1st Army breakout from St. Lo was successful in opening a corridor along west coast of the Cotentin peninsula to Avranches. On 1 August 1944, Omar Nelson Bradley took command of the US 12th Army Group and transferred command of the US 1st Army to General Courtney Hicks Hodges. The US 3rd Army, commanded by General George Smith Patton Jr., was activated and US 4th and 6th Armored Divisions rapidly advanced south down the narrow corridor passing through Avranches and entered the open country of Brittany.

The US commanders quickly realized that the corridor bordered by the sea to the west and by the German forces to the east must be widened in order to prevent a German counter-attack. The US 1st Infantry Division “Big Red One”, commanded by Major General Clarence R. Huebner, was ordered on August 1 to capture the town of Mortain. On August 2, the 1st Division supported by the 32nd Armored Regiment, US 3rd Armored Division and 634th Tank Destroyer Battalion (M10s) assaulted and captured the village of Juvigny-le-Tertre which was held by the 116. Panzer-Division and part of the 2nd SS Panzer-Division.

On August 3, coming from Avranches, GIs of the 2/18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division advancing east on the main road (Today D5) had passed through the main crossroads in Juvigny-le-Tertre. This M4 Sherman belonging to Task Force X of the 32nd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division was knocked out by the 2nd SS Panzer-division “Das Reich” the day before.

Progressing despite the resistance from elements of the German 275. Infantrie-Division and the assaults of reconnaissance units of the 2. Panzer-Division, the 18th Infantry Regiment seized Mortain on August 3. General Huebner immediately secured the heights in the immediate vicinity to the east of the town on Hill 314. The 18th Infantry Regiment dug in around Mortain and the next day repulsed a weak German counter-attack. Then the Allies (Ultra at Bletchley Park in England) began intercepting German communications relating to a German counter-offensive in the Mortain sector.

The US 30th Infantry Division “Old Hictory” was ordered to Mortain to relieve the US 1st Infantry Division. The division began arriving in Mortain on August 6, the day before the German counter-attack. The 117th infantry Regiment deployed in the vicinity around and in St. Barthelemy. The 120th infantry deployed in and around Mortain with two companies of 2/120th Infantry on Hill 314 east of the town and 1/120th Infantry on Hill 285 west of the town. The 120th Infantry were able to use the trenches dug by the 18th Infantry a few days before. The 119th infantry and 3rd Armored Division Combat Command B (CCB) were in reserve northwest of Juvigny-le-Tertre. Elements of US 4th and 9th Infantry Divisions were located on the left flank, north of the Sees River.

US 30th Infantry Division:
117th, 119th and 120th Infantry Regiments
823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion (Towed M5 3-inch AT guns)
743rd Tank Battalion
(Landed with the US 1st Infantry Division on Omaha Beach on D-Day.)

US 9th Infantry Division:
39th Infantry Regiment
746th Tank Battalion (Landed with second wave on Utah Beach on D-day.)

US 4th Infantry Division:
8th Infantry Regiment

US 3rd Armored Division CCB:
33rd Armored Regiment, less one battalion
one battalion of the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment
one company of the 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion (M10s)

US 35th Infantry Division:
134th, 137th and 320th Infantry Regiments
737th Tank Battalion
654th Tank Tank Destroyer Battalion (M10s)

On July 22, the US 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions began receiving the first 100 M4A1(76) Sherman tanks just before Operation Cobra. This M4A1(76) of the 33rd Armored regiment was near Reffuveille on August 7. Note that it has a Culin hedgerow cutter mounted on the lower front hull.


Operation Lüttich

The launch of Operation Lüttich was a shambles. The German counter-attack was scheduled to begin at 2200 hours on the night of August 6-7. Many of the columns moving to the start line were behind schedule and it was recommended to postpone the attack. The main elements of the 1. SS Panzer-Division were 6 miles (10 km) from the start line and that only its reconnaissance battalion and a kompanie of Pz.Kpfw. IVs had arrived. The attack was ordered to proceed. Another complication was the late arriving panzer kompanies of 1. SS Panzer-Division used the same roads as those assigned to 2. SS Panzer-Division which led to traffic jams that delayed the start of some units.


ALLIED AIR SUPPORT

The warm summer weather and the high humidity resulted in ground fog in the early morning hours in the areas around Mortain. The fog prevented Allied air cover over the Mortain area until noon on August 7. The RAF 2nd Tactical Air Force sent a patrol of two Typhoon fighter-bombers from 121 Wing over Mortain in the late morning. The area was shrouded in low fog and clouds. After finding a gap in the fog and clouds, the Typhoons spotted an enemy column nearly 5 miles (8 km) long heading west and radioed back their report. The first Typhoon squadrons took off from their bases shortly after noon and began making rocket attacks in the St. Barthélemy and Chérencé-le-Roussel areas. Air strikes by the RAF 121 and 124 Wings of 83 Group hit mostly in the northern areas of the German attack. RAF 84 Group attempted to make air attacks against Das reich in the Mortain area, but fog and low clouds prevented it for most of the day. In total, the RAF conducted 305 Typhoon sorties that day claiming 90 panzers destroyed and 59 damaged along with 51 other vehicles. Later, that day was dubbed “The Day of the Typhoon.” Many of the claimed “panzers” could have been camouflaged Jagdpanzers.

The USAAF XIX Tactical Air Command conducted about 400 sorties in the Mortain battle area on August 7. Total claims for the day was 12-13 panzers, 98 trucks and 90 horse-drawn vehicles. The panzer kills all came from 7 rocket armed P-47Ds of the US 406th Group which also claimed 4 half-tracks, 5 staff cars and 4 light Flak positions firing about 600 rockets.

RAF 83 Group, 2nd Tactical Air Force:
121 Wing – Squadron (Code): 174 (XP), 175 (HH) and 245 (MR)
124 Wing – Squadron (Code): 181 (EL), 182 (XM) and 247 (ZY)

US 9th Air Force:
50th Fighter Group – Squadron (Code): 10 (T5), 81 (2N) and 313 (W3)
406th Fighter Group – Squadron (Code): 512 (L3), 513 (4P) and 514 (07)

ALLIED AIRCRAFT

The Hawker Typhoon Ib (Tiffy in RAF slang) was armed with four 20mm cannnons and eight RP-3 60-lb rockets on launching rails. This Typhoon of the RAF 247 Squadron, serial MN317, coded ZY-B and named “China British” is being reloaded at B2/Bazenville, Normandy.

IWM CL 157

This Republic P-47D Thunderbolt “Razorback” or the “Jug” was armed with six .50 Cal MGs and two M10 triple tube launchers for 4.5-inch (114 mm) M8 rockets. The majority of the P-47Ds carried standard bomb loads.


MORTAIN

The main attack on Mortain was conducted by 2. SS Panzer-Division “Das Reich”. Prior to the attack, its assembly area was near St. Marin-de-Chaulieu about 10 miles (16 km) northeast from Mortain. The division attacked in 3 groups:

The main central column objective was to secure the town of Mortain and the surrounding hills. It consisted of SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 3 “Deutschland” supported by the understrength SS-Panzer-Regiment 2. Attached to the formation was Kampfgruppe 17, the remnants of 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-ivision, supported by a kompanie of Das Reich’s StuG III assault guns.

The northern Das Reich attack force was SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 4 “Der Führer” supported by another kompanie of Das Reich’s StuG III assault guns. This force attacked in a column with the III./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 4 followed by II./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 4. Its objective was to attack to the north of Mortain towards the L’Abbaye Blanche monastery.

The smallest southern formation was SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 2 which was assigned the reconnaissance/cavalry role as the flank guard, covering the left flank south of Mortain by establishing blocking positions.

The town of Mortain was defended by two battalions from the 120th Infantry Regiment with the 3/120th Infantry posted further south at Barenton. The main threat was believed to come from the northeat so the defenses were oriented most strongly in that direction. Most of the 1/120th Infantry was positioned on Hill 285 to the northwest of the town, and the 2/120th Infantry along with Company K, 3/120 Infantry, on Hill 314. The town itself was mainly used for HQ and support units with roadblocks located on the main north and south roads leading into the town.

At 0130 hours on August 7, I./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 3 penetrated the weakly defended southern side of Mortain and overran the 3rd Platoon, Company A, 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion and the positions of Company F, 120th Infantry. By 1000 hours, I./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 3 gain full control of Mortain. The 2/120th Infantry and Company K, 3/120 Infantry on Hill 314 had been cut off but still had radio communications.


THE LUFTWAFFE

The Luftwaffe’s JagdKorps 2 made an attempt to provide air support for Operation Lüttich. The plan was for both ground-attack sorties and fighter sweeps to fend off Allied fighters. The Allies air forces had covered the airspace over Normandy and a number of dogfights had erupted around the German airfields near Chartres which limited the number of Luftwaffe planes reaching the Mortain area. The morning ground fog postponed the attacks until 1400 hours with attacks made by six Gruppen. A flight of 6 rocket firing Fw 190A-8s escorted by 18 Bf 109G-6s of Jagdgesschwader 26 were spotted by P-47s which claimed 12 kills in the ensuing dogfights. Jagdgesschwader 26 reported that only 5 were lost but other German gruppens may have been involved. The Luftwaffe missions continued into the early evening. The 120th Infantry in the Mortain area reported at least 10 air attacks against their positions by rocket firing Fw 190A-8s.

The Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-8s (nicknamed “Würger” or in English “Shrike”) were armed with under-wing WGr 21 rocket-propelled mortars as a Rüstsatz 6 (/R6) field modification (one under each wing), The weapon was developed from the 210mm Nebelwerfer 42 infantry weapon.


HILL 314

There was some confusion over the number for this hill. Its was referred to either Hill 314 or Hill 317. The cause of the confusion was due to the different maps the US Army was using at the time. The widely used 1:25,000 scale map identifies it as Hill 314. However, the 1:50,000 scale map correctly shows two high points. The southern peak, where Le Petit Chapelle is located, was labeled as Hill 314 and the second peak further to the north was labeled as Hill 317. The most common identification used is Hill 314 and the hill is known as Montjoie by the local French inhabitants.

Most of the initial German attacks were made against the eastern side of the hill. After the capture of Mortain on August 7, there were few attacks from the western side because the west side of the hill had a broad stone cliff. There was a single east-west road on the southern side of the hill which was the route the Germans frequently used because it supported armored vehicles. The top of the hill had numerous large boulders and rock outcroppings which offered natural defensive positions and cover from German artillery fire. The real importance of the hill was that offered a superb view over the entire surrounding area for observation purposes. Two radio equipped forward observer teams from the 230th Field Artillery Battalion and an observer team from the 120th Cannon Company were positioned on the hill. Due to the importance of defending the hill, these observers had special high priority by US VII Corps heavy artillery for fire missions around the clock. During the predawn hours on August 8, the Germans made three attempts to take Hill 314 believing that the US artillery would be less accurate in the dark. However, the US forward observers had preregistered several avenues of approach, and the German attacks were crushed. Over the next several days, Germans made many attempts to take the hill supported by Pz.Kpfw. IVs but due to US mines, anti-tank and artillery fire they failed each time.

On August 8, the 2/120th Infantry on Hill 314 became seriously low on ammunition, especially for crew served weapons such as machine guns and mortars. A request for a re-supply was radioed to Division HQ but confusion led to long delays in setting up an airdrop. Meanwhile, the 30th Division Artillery attempted to drop supplies from their light spotter planes. Two light planes made low altitude passes over the hill in the morning but took damage from German small arms fire and 20mm Flak guns which ended that method of re-supply. On August 10 around 1625 hours, a flight of 12 C-47 transport planes with fighter escort flew about 300 feet (91.44 meters) over Hill 314 and dropped supply packs. Ground fire detonated one of the para-packs of ammunition, but the remaining were released without issue. Only about half of the packs were collected by the 2/120th Infantry and the remainder felled into German hands. Many of the packs that landed mainly contained food and ammunition but lacked medical supplies and radio batteries. It took another day to setup another airdrop. As an emergency solution, the 230th Field Artillery Battalion fired batteries and plasma in empty artillery smoke projectiles to Hill 314. The first attempt was tried at 2145 hours in the dark but the darkness prevented the collection of any of the parcels. A second attempt was made at first light on August 11 with some better results.


This M5 3-inch anti-tank (AT) gun of the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion was knocked out somewhere around Mortain. Note that right side gun shield had been blown off.

A GI is examining this knocked out Jeep and M3 Half-track (lying on its side) on Grande Rue in Mortain. They probably belonged to the the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion. M3 Half-tracks were used to tow the M5 3-inch AT guns.

Das Reich Panzer Grenadier attack columns were led by Sd.Kfz.251/9 Schützenpanzerwagens. This SPG variant, also called “kanonenwagen”, was equipped with a short-barrel 75mm (2.95 in) KwK 37 L/24 howitzer which used the same mounting as on the StuG III. It was nicknamed “Stummel” (Stump). Its armor was adequate to stop small arms fire but US anti-tank gun fire completely destroyed the vehicle as seen here.

A GI armed with a M3 “Grease Gun” sub-machine gun is looking at dead German near a knocked out Sd.Kfz. 251 Ausf. D halftrack. Behind it is NSU Kettenkrad HK-101 (Sd.Kfz. 2).

This is another view of the same Sd.Kfz. 251. Its license plate number was SS-926256 and probably belonged to 9 Kompanie, SS-PzGrenRgt. 4, 2. SS Panzer-Division “Das Reich”. In the background is the Mortain-Le Neufbourg railway station.

This is the rear view of the same Sd.Kfz. 251. Other knocked out vehicles can be seen down the road in the background.

This is the same location today on Route de la Gare (D46).

This view is from further down the road in front of the above Sd.Kfz. 251. On the left is a destroyed SS Opel Blitz truck. Behind it from left to right is a destroyed Volkswagen (VW) Type 166 Schwimmwagen (literally “swimming car”), a VW Type 82 Kübelwagen and a US jeep which could have been used by the Germans. These vehicles were knocked out by the 57mm AT guns of the 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division (Sergeant Miller Rhyne) and M5 3-inch AT guns of 1st Platoon, A Company, 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion.

This is the same location today. The trees along the road must had been replaced years after the war.


Saint Barthélemy

The 1. SS Panzer-Division “Liebstandarte SS Adolf Hitler” or “LSSAH” was the last division to arrive for Operation Lüttich and only a few elements were ready to participate in the first day’s attack. The attack on St. Barthélemy was made with two groups:

Kampfgruppe Brassert:
Pz.Gren.Rgt. 2 supported by panzers from the 2. Panzer-Division

Leibstandarte:
SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 2 supported by panzers of I./SS-Pz.Rgt. 1

The main objective of this attack was the road junction in the village of St. Barthélemy. Kampfgruppe Brassert attacked along the northern roads while Leibstandarte attacked from the east and south. Many accounts suggest that one of the Leibstandarte Kampfgruppe’s was led by Jochen Peiper but in fact he had suffered a breakdown from combat exhaustion a few days earlier and had been evacuated.

St. Barthélemy was defended by 1/117th Infantry which arrived around noon on August 6 and had taken over positions previously manned by the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. The Leibstandarte attack began unevenly in the early morning hours of August 7 due to the late arrival of its units. The main attack took place at 0600 hours with columns advancing down all three roads leading into St. Barthélemy. Due to the fog, the panzers were able to approach the US defenses to nearly point-blank ranges before they were seen. The US roadblocks were quickly overrun. While the US infantry in the village were dealing with the Leibstandarte attacks, the village was struck by panzers and vehicles of Kampfgruppe Brassert from the northern road. While the 1/117th infantry was taking heavy losses and was almost about to be wiped out, Allied fighter-bombers started to appear over the village around noon and largely paralyzed the German attack. Due to Allied air strikes, the German ground assault came to a halt by the early afternoon. German reinforcements for the assault were stopped by continued Allied air attacks. A large column of panzers and other vehicles from 2. Panzer-Division and Leibstandarte were hit on the roads east of St. Barthélemy on the afternoon of August 7.

Since the Normandy landings, the RAF Tactical Air Force attacked enemy forces that were advancing to the Normandy area far from any Allied forces. During Operation Lüttich, it was the first time that the RAF Tactical Air Force attacked enemy forces along the front lines. Unfortunately, there were three friend fire incidents which occurred during the German offensive. On August 8, RAF Hawker Typhoons attacked two M4 tanks of C Company, US 743rd Tank Battalion with rockets, killing 5 tank crewmen and wounding 10 GIs. Later that day, two M4s from A Company, US 743rd Tank Battalion were destroyed and set ablaze by RAF Typhoons near Mortain. One tank crewman was killed and 12 others wounded. RAF Hawker Typhoons once again fired rockets at M4s of A Company, US 743rd Tank Battalion, near Mortain, on August 12 causing damage to one tank and badly injuring 2 tank crewmen.

A group of knocked out vehicles somewhere between Chérencé-le-Roussel and St. Barthélemy. Two panthers of 3./SS-Pz.Rgt 1 and on the left edge of the photo is a US M10 3-Inch Tank Destroyer. The front end of a US jeep in the background and a couple of GIs examining the panther can be seen in the background. Note the hanging driver’s hatch on the Panther.

This view is from another angle of the same area showing a knocked out Sd.Kfz. 251 half-track to the right of the panthers. An operational research investigation of these wrecks concluded that the Sd.Kfz. 251 was destroyed by a high explosive (HE) projectile hit but it was not clear if it was an aerial rocket or field artillery.

Another view of the same area from the other side of the Sd.Kfz. 251. The operational research investigation concluded that one of the panthers was knocked out by AT gun fire, and the other was hit by an aerial rocket which damaged its drive sprocket and the crew abandoned the panzer.

This is a view of the rear of the Panther Ausf. A. The knocked out M10 Tank Destroyer either belonged to the 634th or the 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion.

This is my close up showing the number “328” painted on the side of the gun mount. Note that when the gun is elevated up or down, the number “8” will move.

This is a foggy view of the same scene from another angle. Panther number “328” is next to the tree on the right. The front of the Sd.Kfz. 251 can be seen in the background.

This Panther Ausf. A of SS-Pz.Rgt. 1 ran off the road, up the embarkment knocking over a telephone and getting stuck in the ditch.

This is the front view of the same panther above. Compare the shapes of the areas missing zimmerit on the front hull in the two photos. Note that the spare track links on the turret sides are only attached along the top edge and were hanging loose. This view also shows that the trees in the background were a distance from the road.

A burnt out Panther Ausf. A of SS-Pz.Rgt. 1 in the St. Barthélemy area after the fighting. Note the Balkenkreuz (cross) painted on the front side hull and the dangling spare track links on the turret side.

This Leibstandarte Sd.Kfz. 251 Ausf. D halftrack and VW Schwimmwagen were knocked out somewhere between Juvigny-le-Tertre and St. Barthélemy.


Le Mesnil-Adelée

The second main column of the 2. Panzer-Division was Kampfgruppe Schake commanded by Oberst Hans Schake, CO of Pz.Gren.Rgt. 304. The objective of this formation was the village of Le Mesnil-Adelée. This kampfgruppe made the deepest penetration during Operation Lüttich, mainly because they attacked in an area where there was a large gap in the US defenses.

Kampfgruppe Schake consisted of:
4 kompanies, Pz.Gren.Rgt. 304, 2. Panzer-Division
14-18 Panthers, I./Pz.Rgt. 24, 116. Panzer-Division
2 Panzerjäger kompanies, Pz.Jg.Abt. 38, 2. Panzer-Division
3 kompanies, SS-Panzeraufklarungs. Abt. 1 (SS-AA 1)

The Leibstandarte reconnaissance battalion, SS-AA 1, reached the small town of Le Mesnil-Tove in the dark around 0400 hours. There was at least one 57mm At gun and about a dozen trucks from the 12th Infantry Regiment, US 4th Infantry Division in the town. The German troops dismounted and infiltrated into the town and quickly captured it. At this point, Rittmeister Weidemann’s Panther kompanie, 4./Pz.Rgt. 24, and some panzerjägers of Pz.Jg.Abt. 38 broke off from Kampfgruppe Schake and headed north to Chérencé-le-Roussel to support an attack on that town by other elements of the 116. Panzer-Division (See below).

The main column proceeded through the town and advanced west to its main objective at Le Mesnil-Adelée. This town was along the border of the US 9th Infantry Division to the north and the US 30th Infantry Division to the south and was not defended by US troops. Kampfgruppe Schake encircled the village and occupied it before dawn.

The 119th Infantry, in 30th Division reserve, dispatched Company B to Le Mesnil-Adelée around dawn. It setup a roadblock with two 57mm AT guns east of the village after dawn. In the meantime, 3rd Battalion, 119th Infantry Regiment, was sent from its bivouac area eastward to retake Le Mesnil-Tove from the south. It passed through Juvigny-le-Tertre around 1100 hours with Company I detaching from the battalion and headed off separately to southeast of Le Mesnil-Adelée. The first attempt to retake Le Mesnil-Tove by Companies K and I was repulsed and one of the accompanying M4 tanks from Company C, 743rd Tank Battalion was knocked out. In the meantime, Company I reached Le Mesnil-Adelée and setup a defensive perimeter on the south side of the village.

The first major engagement of US tanks in this sector was unplanned. The 67th Armored Regiment, US 2nd Armored Division was also in the area to the north resting and refitting after Operation Cobra a week earlier. On the morning of August 7, the division was on a 55 mile road march from Pont Brocard to Domfront by the way of Chérencé-le-Roussel and Mortain. While moving south near Le Mesnil-Gilbert, the advance party commanded by Lt. Finley of Company G, 67th Armored Regiment, spotted enemy activity ahead which was Kampfgruppe Schake in Le Mesnil-Adelée. Finley’s tank company, supported by M7 105mm HMCs of the 78th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (AFAB) was ordered to attack the German force, later followed by Company C and a M10 platoon from the 702th Tank Destroyer Battalion. In the morning fog, the two groups exchanged long range fire with the 3/67th Armored claiming 4 panzers. During this engagement, howitzer fire from the 78th AFAB killed the Kampfgruppe commander, Oberst Schake, and command of
the Kampfgruppe was transferred to Major Kuno von Meyer. Later in the morning, the 3/8 Infantry Regiment, US 4th Infantry Division moved into Le Mesnil-Gilbert. As a result, the 3/67th Armored broke off the engagement and continued on its road march to Domfront, skirting around le Mesnil-Adelée far to the west.

The first Allied fighter-bombers reached this area in the late morning. A dozen P-47D Thunderbolts of the 50th Fighter Group attacked Kampfgruppe Schake claiming to have knocked out 6 panzers but only damaged a few panzers. The air attacks and the appearance of more US troops discouraged any further advances by Kampfgruppe Schake. The situation in the area was so confused that P-47Ds strafed the 1/119th Infantry positions south of the village and some of the 67th Armored tanks were damaged by rocket firing P-47s. The 119th Infantry repelled attacks by Kampfgruppe Schake and a stalemate continued.

The crew is hitching their AT gun to their camouflaged Sd.Kfz. 251 haft-track which probably belonged to Pz.Jg.Abt. 38. The trident Insignia on the rear hull was used by the 2. Panzer-Division during 1944-45.

This Panther Ausf. G has features that of I./Pz.Rgt. 24. The battalion’s Panthers had spare road wheels mounted on the turret and the long tube container with gun bore brush and spare antennas was relocated to the edge of the engine deck behind the exhaust pipes.


Chérencé-le-Roussel

The northern most column of Operation Lüttich was Kampfgruppe Zander from the 116. Panzer-Division. The scale of this attack was limited due to confusion over the division’s orders. The 116th Panzer-Division was supposed to be relieved by the newly arriving inexperienced 84. Infantrie-Division. Due to a US advance toward Garthemo, the 116th Panzer-Division was forced to commit one of its two Panzergrenadier regiments to counter that advance and its divisional artillery and Panzerjäger battalion was supporting the 84. Infantrie-Division at the beginning of Operation Lüttich. Its panzer element had already redirected to support Kampfgruppe Schake south of the Sees River. As a result, the limited attack force was commanded by Oberstleutant Helmut Zander, commander of Pz.Gren.Rgt. 60 where its objective was to capture the small village of Chérencé-le-Roussel.

Kampfgruppe Zander consisted of:
Pz.Gren.Rgt. 60
1 Battalion, Pz.Gren.Rgt. 156

The village was held by the 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry regiment, US 9th Infantry Division supported by a tank platoon from the US 746th Tank battalion. This battalion had been in the area for three day and had been trying to capture the surrounding hills to the east of the village. A scouting patrol of two German motorcycles stumbled into US outposts at 2230 hours on August 6 and were quickly knocked out. The US defenders of Chérencé-le-Roussel were alerted of the German attack by the noise from Kampfgruppe Schake that was passing to the south near Le Mesnil-Tove.

Kampfgruppe Zander attack began around 0200 hours from the direction of Mont Turgon immediately east of Chérencé-le-Roussel. The dismounted German infantry attack pushed back the US defenses but failed to secure the village. As a result, Kampfgruppe Zander requested panzer support and Rittmeister Weidemann’s Panther kompanie, 4./Pz.Rgt. 24, and some panzerjägers of Pz.Jg.Abt. 38 broke off from Kampfgruppe Schake and headed north to Chérencé-le-Roussel.

Note: Since I./Pz.Rgt. 24 only had 14-18 Panthers at the beginning of Operation Lüttich, 4./Pz.Rgt. 24 probably only had 2-4 Panthers.

At 0445 hours, Company C, 39th Infantry counterattacked and regained most of the ground it had previously lost and the German panzers were not able to decisively influence the battle due to the lack of decent roads and the constricted bocage terrain. After daybreak, other elements of the 39th Infantry arrived in the area as reinforcements along with Company B, 8th Infantry Regiment, US 4th Infantry Division.

Panther Ausf. A number 432 of Rittmeiter Weidemann’s 4th Kompanie of I./Pz.Rgt. 24.

A camouflaged US 57mm AT gun of the 1/39 Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division in position along a road in Chérencé-le-Roussel on August 9.

Film: Chérencé-le-Roussel – Barenton – Normandie – 09/08/1944


33rd Armored Regiment of CCB dispatched Task Force 1 (TF1) commanded by Colonel King from their refitting area near Reffuveille to attack Kampfgruppe Schake in Le Mesnil-Adelée.

CCB TF1 consisted of:
Company A (M5A1 Stuarts)
Company F (17 M4s)
Company I (17 M4s)
1 company, 36th Armored Infantry Regiment
1 platoon (M10s), 703rd Tank Destroyer battalion

Company F made the attack into Le Mesnil-Adelée. Supporting US artillery first began to hit the village with high explosive rounds then switched to smoke just before attack began to conceal the advancing US tanks. Two tank platoons attacked directly into the village from the south while the 3rd Platoon attacked from the north. The attack from the south took the heaviest casualties, losing 4 tanks. The arrival of the 3rd Platoon from the north surprised the German defenders and several Panthers were knocked out or damaged. German losses in the fighting are unclear. One 116. Panzer-Division history state that 4 Panthers were lost while various US after action reports claimed 6 to 15 Panthers destroyed.

During the course of the day Le Mesnil-Adelee came under increasing counterattacks by US tanks and infantry. At 1700 hours, the surviving elements of Kampfgruppe Schake withdrew east from Le Mesnil-Adelée towards Le Mesnil-Tove. The Panthers, most of them damaged, had to pull back to Le Mesnil-Tove. During the following days, the few remaining operational Panthers were in action to the south-west of Sourdeval, before they returned to the 116. Pz.Div. on August 11.

The US tanks did not pursue the retreating Kampfgruppe Schake but did cleared out Le Mesnil-Adelée with support from the armored infantry. As Kampfgruppe Schake moved eastward, a US artillery observation plane spotted the column and directed fire from 155mm howitzers of the 20th Field Artillery Battalion onto the column. This caused more losses, mostly unarmored trucks and support vehicles and at least two Sd.Kfz. 251 halftracks were destroyed.

Le Mesnil-Tove became a defensive hub for Kampfgruppe Schake after retreating from Le Mesnil-Adelée. The panthers of I./Pz.Rgt. 24 remained attached to Kampfgruppe Schake during this fighting and took defensive positions south of the village. Pz.Jg.Abt. 38 was located closer to the village, oriented towards the southwest. Pz.Gren.Rgt. 304 covered the northern approach routes against the advancing US 4th Infantry Division and also had a battalion facing south to support the Panthers against Task Force 2 of CCB 3rd Armored Division. For the next four days, the fighting around Le Mesnil-Tove became a stalemate where both sides heavily used artillery and made small local counter-attacks.

The M4 tank on the left is from F Company while the M4 on the right is from I Company, both advancing towards Le Mesnil-Adelée. M3 half-tracks of the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment are parked along the tree line in the background.

This is my closeup of the F Company, 33rd Armored Regiment M4 tank above. The tank still had its wading trunk attached since landing in Normandy in June. The tactical number on the turret was probably “F-25”.

This M4 with tactical code “I-2” belonging to the HQ Platoon of the Company I is advancing towards Le Mesnil-Adelée. GIs from the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment are riding on the engine deck. Sadly, two days later on August 9, this tank was knocked out by German gunfire which started an ammunition fire.

Entering the west end of Juvigny-Le Tertre along the main road, a US jeep drive pass a knocked out M4 Sherman on the left which was part of Task Force 2 (TF 2) of CCB, 3rd Armored Division. On the right side of the road is a Sturmgeshutz (Stug III) of the 1st SS Panzer-Division. Further up the road and pass the main intersection, the jeep would had passed the 32nd Armored Regiment M4 Sherman which was knocked out the week before.

This is my close up of the knocked out M4 Sherman. This tank was completely in flames since all the rubber on the tracks were burnt off. Note that frames for the wading trunk can be seen below the air filters on the rear hull.

This is my close up of the knocked out Stug III. Note that most of the right side of the hull had been blown away and its 75mm gun is pointing to the left.

This is the same location today on route D5.

This Panther was knocked out somewhere around Mortain area. Note the shell damage which penetrated the forward hull side.


SOUTH OF MORTAIN

The 2/117 Infantry continued its attempts to reach and capture Romagny from the northeast. The objective was hopeless and the sector remained a stalemate for 4 days due to the Das Reich’s defenses between Romagny and Mortain were strong. The 1/119th Infantry attempted to push out of Romagny to the northeast to relieve the 2/120th Infantry cut off on Hill 314. The battalion was supported by M5A1 Stuarts of Company D, 743rd Tank Battalion with two attached M4 tanks and one M4 dozer tank. During the mid-afternoon on August 8, the battalion attempted to advance towards Mortain but was immediately stopped by German gun fire from the German perimeter located southwest of Mortain. A second attempted was also met with heavy enemy fire forcing the battalion to retreat back to Romagny.

The newly committed US 35th Infantry Division, part of the XX Corps, had advanced south through Avranches. Due to the Mortain counter-attack, the division was ordered eastward to cover the gap between Mortain and Barenton on the 30th’s Division right flank. On the afternoon of August 8, it begun to advance northwestward from St. Hilaire (south of Avranches) with the 134th infantry on the left and the 137th infantry on the right. By late afternoon it was southwest of Romagny and approaching the southern defensive perimeter of Das Reich.

In the early evening, 6. Kompanie, SS-Pz.Rgt. 2 from Das Reich launched a spoiling attack to the south. The 134th Infantry was advancing through the fields south of the St. Hilaire-Mortain road, and the German column advanced pass the rifle companies of 2/134 Infantry into the battalion’s rear area. The 1st platoon, Company A, 737th Tank Battalion was parked near the 2nd Battalion command post when the panzers made a surprise attack from the road and 4 M4 tanks were quickly knocked out. Another panzer platoon attacked the 134th Cannon Company, which fired its 105mm howitzers against the panzers to little effect before being overun. Two M10 GMCs of Company A, 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion intervened, losing the two M10s. The surprise attack also overran the battalion motor park and aid station. HQ and rear area troops began to fire bazookas at the attacking panzers. The raid ended after dark when the panzers withdrew back north towards Romagny.

After heavy fighting for several days, at 0820 hours on August 12, the 320th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division finally reached the 2/120th Infantry on Hill 314.

Film: MORTAIN, FRANCE, 8/12/44; AMERICAN SOLDIERS WALKING AROUND

Film: US soldiers advance along ruined town of Mortain


August 8: Le Mans was captured by US XV Corps.

August 10: XV Corps begins advancing north to Alençon.

August 11: German forces begin withdrawing from the Mortain area.

August 12: XV Corps batters 9. and 116. Panzer-Divisions around Alençon.

August 13: XV Corps starts, then halts, and advance to Argentan.

August 14: Canadian 1st Army launched Operation Tractable heading for Falaise.

August 15: US 7th Army launched Operation Dragoon, invasion of southern France.

August 21: Argentan-Falaise Gap is closed.

September 10: US 7th Army establish contact with units of Patton’s 3rd Army.


AFTER THE FIGHTING ENDED

These two little French girls are playing on this knocked out M4 tank on the outskirts of Mortain.

In 1947, these two panthers somewhere north of Mortain are waiting to be scrapped.

IF the Germans had launched Operation Lüttich during a few days of foul weather (clouds and rain), the Allied air forces would not been able to intervene. IF this German counter-attack had succeeded, the supply lines to units of Patton’s US 3rd Army in Brittany would had been cut off and the outcome probably would have been different.

2 thoughts on “Mortain 1944

  1. Another brilliant post Mike. A little known offensive, I’ve never heard of it. Amazing photos with this one as well, love the current day location photos. Keep up the good work, looking forward to your next one!

    Like

  2. Thanks for this narrative. My dad was in the 120th Cannon Company. He never told us much about what he endured.

    Like

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