134th Infantry Regiment
"All Hell Can't Stop Us"
By Major General Butler B. Miltonberger, Former Commanding Officer, 134th Infantry Regiment
and Major James A. Huston, Assistant Professor of History, Purdue University
Transcribed by Roberta V. Russo, Palatine, Illinois
Around St. Jean du Cordl
Attack is the reaction. I never think I have hit hard unless it rebounds.
- James Boswell
The second vital battle was that of the Falaise pocket. Here the enemy showed that fatal tendency to stand and fight when all the logic of war demanded a strategic withdrawal.
- General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Report of the Supreme Commander
"To us that night will always epitomize the confusion of warfare. It would have been funny if it hadnt been such a serious matter . . . The Germans . . . infiltrated into our territory . . . finally, everybody had everybody else surrounded it was a sandwich! We had to fight our supplies into our units. One of our lieutenants tapped a man on the shoulder to ask if he was from K Company and the German turned around and fired at him with a burp gun."
- Reported by Lawrence Youngman in the Omaha World Herald
With the successful breakout at St. Lo it became obvious that the Germans had failed either to drive the allies back into the sea or to contain the invasion forces in the Cotentin Peninsula. As American armored and motorized troops broke into the open and swept toward Paris and the Seine-Loire gap on a 53-mile front, one last desperate chance remained for the Germans if they would turn the tide in Western France. This was to isolate the racing Third Army by cutting the narrow corridor at Avranches through which that Armys vital supplies funneled. Gathering the remnants of six panzer divisions as the core, the Germans launched their counter-offensive on the night of 6 August. Aiming at the seizure of the key city of Avranches, the Nazis the very next day recaptured Mortain and penetrated three miles toward the sea. It was a desperate gamble loaded with danger for the Allied offensive; but Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, commanding the American ground forces, elected to counter with a gamble of his own let the Third Army continue on its way.
This development found the 134th Infantry assembled in the vicinity of Louvigne. It, with the other units of the 35th Division, was there as a part of the XX Corps. Teamed with the 5th Division and General Jacques Leclercs 2nd French Armored Division, the 35th was on its way, presumably, to the vicinity of Rennes, where it would become another of General Pattons fast-moving columns. Orders had come before noon on 5 August to be prepared on short notice to move by motor. The Regiment had assembled that day near Annebecq, but crowded traffic conditions on the roads had necessitated an opportunity it was Sunday to hold general services in the battalions for the first time since the beginning of combat. Men had been intensely conscious of the beauty of the day and had enjoyed an unusual freedom from the pressures of combat duty with rest and cleaning and exercise with baseballs (there even had been a home-like feeling when someone sent a ball through a truck window) and footballs. The motor column had moved out at 1950. Little to the surprise of anyone familiar with the visits of "Bed-check Charlie," the column had come under air attack shortly after 11 oclock as it passed through St. Hilaire. Even then Nazi columns had been on the move in the initiation of their great effort to cut the very corridor through which the 35th Division was passing.
It had been a comforting thing for the men of the 134th to be moving on reliable 2 ½ -ton trucks rather than upon their own feet. It had been a reassuring thing to move in a single night a greater distance southward (about 35 miles "as the crow flies") than they had advanced during their weeks of combat from St. Lo to the area northwest of Vire.
The decision of the high command had been to let the Third Army go on its way. That had not included the 35th Division, however, for it practically was "flagged off the road" to postpone its rejoining the Third Army, and to return to the First Army (with Lt. Gen. "Lightnin Joe" Collins VII Corps) for action against the German threat in the vicinity of Mortain. For men of the 134th Infantry, it meant a return to the hedgerows. Before noon on that same 7 August a warning order came to prepare to move in that direction. Combat teams (Combat Team 134 included the 161st Field Artillery Battalion, Company A, 110th Medical Battalion; Company A, 60th Engineer Battalion, with the 134th Infantry) were on a 30-minute alert status, and when the order to move came, they were able to respond quickly. At 1430 CT 134 began moving to the northeast, toward the vaguely-defined area of the enemy south of Mortain.
This move took the battalions to defensive areas generally along the St. Hilaire-Buais road east of Les Loges Marchis (two and one half miles south of St. Hilaire) were the Regimental C.P. opened at 1730. The enemy had not penetrated this far, however, and there was no intention to wait for him to do so. Half an hour after the Regiment had closed in, there was another warning order to prepare for further movement. Now the Regiment was to move to contact. The objective was the ground southeast of Mortain along the Mortain-Barenton Highway.
With a platoon of the Cannon Company, a platoon of tanks, and a platoon of tank destroyers attached to each battalion, the Regiment still motorized began moving at 2030 in two parallel columns, the 3rd Battalion on the right, and the 2nd Battalion on the left. The motor columns moved through the twilight, made eerie by the uncertainty of the situation, to close the gap between themselves and the enemy. The 3rd Battalion had to infiltrate across the St. Hilaire-Buais highway, for it was crowded with tanks and other vehicles of the 2nd French Armored Division. As the 3rd Battalion passed through Villechien where the 35th Reconnaissance Troop had reported enemy only half an hour before making a turn to the north, and then very shortly another to the east again, bursts of machine gun fire could be heard, and tracers could be seen streaking across the road to the north the 4th Cavalry (mechanized) was involved in a brush at DeBerre.
There was considerable confusion when it became necessary for motor columns of the 134th Infantry to cross the armored columns of General Jacques Philippe Leclercs 2nd Armored Division that 7 August south of Mortain.
At one town the French troops were receiving the customary wild welcome by the populace.
As each tank rolled by, crowds lining the sidewalks would read out loud the name stenciled on the front and shout it to those in the rear.
"Vive Bordeaux!" they shouted, and a cheer went up "Vive Lorraine!" another cheer.
Somewhere along the route a GI supply truck had slipped into the convoy. Stenciled on its radiator was the familiar sign, "Prestone, 1943", indicating that Prestone had been put into the cooling system.
"Vive la Prestone!" shouted the crowd wildly.
- Tom Hoge in Stars and Stripes
August 15, 1944
This lay near the route of the 2nd Battalion. Already Staff Sergeant Bill Harris of Nebraska and a group of his men from the Regimental Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon had discovered by way of being fired upon by a machine gun that there was enemy along the 2nd Battalions route about a mile east of Milly. Members of the 2nd Battalion soon discovered it too, and leaving their trucks, they engaged in a brief fire fight near DeBerre at 2200, while the 3rd Battalion, leaving its trucks a mile or so short of its objective, marched up to Notre Dame de Touchet and went into position without serious difficulty.
It was a little surprising when the 3rd Battalion resumed its advance at 0600 the next morning, and moved rapidly beyond Notre Dame, and on down the warm dusty road toward its objective beyond the Barenton-St. Jean du Cordl highway without meeting any opposition. Object for some resentment on the part of the marching infantrymen was the platoon of tanks which moved through the column churning up choking dust over the dogfaces. They were regarding the tanks as another of those things which "you cant get along with, and cant get along without."
During a temporary halt after some hours of marching, a familiar formation of high-flying B-17s Flying Fortresses appeared overhead. The regular pattern of faint silver crosses presented a striking beauty against the bright blueness of the sky. But the picture of innocent beauty was marred presently by a series of dark blotches. Anti-aircraft shells were bursting beneath the big bombers; soon it became intense puffs of smoke appeared all through the formation. But not a plane wavered from its course; straight through the flak they flew. Then it could be seen that one was crippled; it lost its speed, seemed to pause for a moment there in the air, and then its nose turned and it plunged earthward there was no spinning, no turning, no pause; in ever increasing speed it fell straight down until it disappeared behind trees on the horizon. Seconds later, there was a noise of a great explosion, and a pall of smoke rose above the trees. Infantrymen remembered that there was a squad of men in that plane.
Soon other airplanes appeared. This time they were fighter-bombers. Three pairs circled over the high, wooded hill southeast of Mortain. First, the P-51 Mustangs, guided by smoke shells, went into dives toward the enemy positions and loosed their bombs, and then zoomed upward. Jerry hardly had time to shake his head after that before the P-47 Thunderbolts came in to "lay their eggs." And that was not all most beautiful of all (thought members of the 134th Infantry who had made their acquaintance in California) were the P-38 Lightnings diving down, then streaking up again as an earth-shaking roar came across the valley and clouds of dust and smoke billowed into the air.
The 3rd Battalion went into position on its objective before noon, and sat down to await further developments.
There was no such good fortune and this was what made the 3rd Battalions advance surprising when the 2nd Battalion jumped off at the same 0600 hour. On the contrary, the fire fight began about where it broke off the preceding night, and before 0630, Company E once more found itself pinned down among the hedgerows. Soon Company G was in the same situation. At this point Captain Fredrick G. Roecker, commanding the 2nd Battalion, decided that it was going to take some personal initiative to get the battalion moving. He went to the company C.P. to see what could be done, and though he was wounded, he remained to direct a platoon personally in an enveloping action which permitted a continuation of the battalions advance. In the action he was wounded a second time, and had to accept evacuation. Another young West Pointer, Lt. Col. Fielder Greer, arrived to take over the 2nd Battalion, but he was relieved shortly, and Captain Carlyle F. McDannel assumed temporary command. It was slow progress for the 2nd Battalion east of DeBerre, even after the reserve tank platoon was sent to its assistance at 1030.
In an effort to achieve a break in the situation, the 1st Battalion was committed on the left of the 2nd at 1230. Now the 3rd Battalion, alone on the objective, was sticking out like a proverbial sore thumb. Anxious to take advantage of this favorable, if precarious, position the regimental commander had initiated a plan to have the 3rd Battalion form a task force to take up position to the southeast of St. Jean were it could cut off the enemy withdrawal and annihilate him as the 1st and 2nd Battalions attacked from the west.
The 1st and 2nd Battalions, though running into fierce local fire fights, were able to gain a few hedgerows during the afternoon, and the Regimental C.P. moved to some farm buildings along the axis of advance of the 3rd Battalion about 2,000 yards west of Barenton at 1800.
Just how precarious the whole situation was became abundantly clear half an hour later. Enemy tanks and infantry, moving from the north, were attacking the rear of the 1st and 2nd Battalions. There was some consternation as men whose primary duties were to support the companies heavily engaged to the front suddenly looked up to see those fearsome steel monsters approaching behind a rain of machine gun fire, and, worse, direct high velocity cannon fire. They brought their destruction through the 1st Battalions motor park, took some of the men prisoner, and went on to create havoc in the 2nd Battalions rear area. The brazen SS men captured the 2nd Battalions Aid Station, including the surgeons, the chaplain (Father William J. Hayes), and numerous supply and motor personnel. The attached Cannon Platoon practically was surrounded by tanks at close range. The men swore at the ineffectiveness of their weapons for fighting tanks and at the lack of protection for themselves, but they had no intention of surrendering. The platoon leader wounded, Technical Sergeant John Gillen of Kansas, platoon sergeant, assumed command and reorganized the platoon for withdrawal. First they turned their attention to the destruction of their equipment so that the Germans would not be able to find any usefulness in its capture, and then they made good their escape without further loss.
Major Warren C. Wood of Nebraska, 1st Battalion executive officer, quickly set to work organizing the elements of the battalion headquarters to fight the tanks. Message center men became rocket launcher (Bazooka) teams, and pioneers became their rifle protection and anti-tank grenadiers. Meanwhile a pair of Company A squad leaders, Staff Sergeant Verlyn J. Carpenter of Nebraska and Staff Sergeant Albert V. Sampson of Minnesota, teammates on Company As division championship basketball team, set out to bring up tank destroyers. They made their way through enemy-held territory, and hurried on four miles to reach the T.D.s and to guide them back to the relief of the battalion. They arrived in time at least to keep a fluid situation fluid and to deny to the enemy the completion of a promising success. Another enemy group approached the 3rd Battalions task force, fired a few rounds, and withdrew. All of this was enough to keep most members of the 134th Infantry on the alert that night.
The 134th Infantry was at grips with the cream of the German forces the vaunted SS Panzer Division "Das Reich," and the regiments in the area were the "Deutschland" (home station, Munich), and "Der Fuehrer" (home station, Vienna). "Das Reich" had been formed as a motorized division in the winter of 1940 41, and after action in the Balkan campaign, it had participated in the invasion of Russia. In the summer of 1942 it had been transferred to France to be reorganized as a panzer division, but then had returned to the southern sector of Russia early in 1943 for the German offensives toward Kharkov and Kiev. Here at least was one division which the invasion of Normandy had drawn from the Russian front.
The order the next morning (9 August) was the kind which one learned to expect in those situations where attack was meeting attack. The 320th Infantry was to go in on the north of the 134th; the 3rd Battalion, 137th Infantry, was attached to the 134th Infantry, and took over the 1st Battalions zone while the latter reverted to reserve and was to follow closely behind the 2nd Battalion. The 3rd Battalion was attached to the 137th Infantry, which was operating northwest from Barenton.
Long before the 0900 attack there were highly convincing indications that the enemy had not yet resigned the initiative, nor was he going to pass up the advantage which he had gained the previous evening without another try. At 0340 the 1st Battalion reported an estimated "15 to 50 enemy tanks to their front." As other activity continued to the north and west, Colonel Boatsman could see that the threat to the rear area had not been eliminated, and he worried about the shortage of bazooka ammunition with which to fight the tanks. (This was relieved somewhat when Lieutenant Charles D. Hall arrived with a load of ammunition from the 3rd Battalion.) The volume of fire which the enemy sent up toward a liaison plane of the 161st Field Artillery gave further indication of the fire power facing the Regiment. The only word from the division was a call at 0910 saying that the "mission must be accomplished without delay."
There was little to show in way of advances for that whole mornings efforts against the continued resistance. Shortly after noon, another truck was coming the other way. The vague signs of danger to the north and west assumed concrete form, and once more, tanks and paratroopers were approaching the rear area of the 1st Battalion. A tank rumbled up to the hedgerow which ran along the orchard being used for a battalion motor park. It pushed its long, ugly gun across the hedgerow, and deliberately opened fire. It blasted the 1st Battalions vehicles as though they were sitting ducks. Five jeeps crumbled before the explosive steel, and then five other trucks were blown to destruction.
Captain Elbert B. OKeefe of Omaha, regimental assistant operations officer, arrived on instructions from the regimental commander to find out the situation and report back. It seemed that tanks were closing from all directions. Tanks reached the MSR (main supply route) to the 1st and 2nd Battalions, and both appeared to be cut off. There had been a report that there was a "lost battalion" of the 30th Division surrounded near Mortain. Now it looked as though there was to be a pair of lost battalions here. Radio communications were fairly good, but it was not wise to give too much of a bad situation over the air. The regimental commander was impatient for information. Finally he was able to contact Captain OKeefe at the 1st Battalion.
"OKeefe, you get back here right away," he said.
"Yes, sir, I sure would like to, sir, but Im afraid it would take a whole armored division to accomplish that right now."
A tank destroyer ventured down the road to make an effort to open the supply route, but it was knocked out before it could deliver a blow. Neither were anti-tank guns able to succeed where the T.D.s failed. Renewed efforts cost two more tank destroyers, and when the 1st Battalion called upon the reserve tank platoon for assistance it lost four tanks.
The 1st Battalion, after beginning the day as a reserve behind the 2nd Battalion, had been ordered to swing south (i.e., to the right) during the afternoon and attack toward the objective. It had responded with a vigorous attack. Directing the action of one of Company As platoons was First Sergeant Leslie A. Gump of Nebraska City, who had been recommended for a battlefield commission as second lieutenant. A machine gun had the company pinned down, and Sergeant Gump was directed to maintain a holding action while a reinforced squad tried to envelop the enemy position. Seeking better observation and to make his own units fire more effective, Sergeant Gump moved forward. Then, in the face of heavy fire, he went on far enough to throw hand grenades into the enemy position. This paved the way for the reinforced squad to complete its mission, but it cost Sergeant Gump his life. His loss was a blow for the Regiment. Not only had he provided capable leadership for Company A, but he had schooled several other first sergeants of the Regiment First Sergeants Donald R. Simmons of 1st Battalion Headquarters Company, Eldon H. Bunn of B Company, then Paul R. Pickering, Sergeant Gumps successor in Company A and later, Herbert B. Rawlings of F Company, and Gerald P. Felthauser of Cannon Company, all came from Company A and Sergeant Gumps tutelage.
Other men in the 1st Battalion had survived the Normandy campaign, only to die in the hedgerows that same day: Pfc. Walter A. Clark of Detroit, Michigan; Staff Sergeant Charles J. Van Dyke of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the 2nd Battalion, First Lieutenant Victor J. Martenson of New Orleans, battalion S-2, was killed has he sought to coordinate the activities of the companies and learn the true situation; then there was Staff Sergeant Cecil W. Gibson of Kimball, Nebraska; Pfc. Roy Ellington of Nebe, North Carolina; Pfc. Ned Potts of Rome, Georgia; Sergeant Thomas F. Singleton of Norwood, North Carolina; and in the 3rd Battalion, Pvt. James H. Galloway of Kingwood, West Virginia; Pvt. Robert M. Clark of Wethersfield, Connecticut; and in Cannon Company, T/5 Arthur E. Bernitt of Maow, Michigan. (On the previous day, 8 August, seven men of Cannon Company were killed in action, and two more were killed on the 10th; that is, in three days time, 10 men of Cannon Company were killed.)
Finally, as night approached, an alternative supply route accessible only to carrying parties was found, and it was possible to bring supplies essential to the battalions holding to their positions. It seemed to be another case of seeing which adversary could outlast the other; unrelenting ground attacks and then tremendous artillery concentrations that night gave the margin of difference.
Someone found time to write a letter home even on 9 August:
I had not realized that it had been so long since I have written. Please forgive me. But here the time and opportunity for writing are not very frequent. And time does not mean a thing. We went to call up Division Headquarters the other day to find out what the date was until our phone operator happened to remember because it was his birthday.
It has been two or three days now since we have received our Stars and Stripes or any outside news, but there have been some luscious rumors floating about.
We have been in some pretty rapidly moving situations lately.
Sometime after midnight that night Father Hayes walked into the Regimental C.P. His arrival immediately touched off a series of questions, and this became a barrage as sleepy officers came into the room to hear the story of this chaplain returned from captivity. Had the Germans indeed been so considerate of chaplains that they had set him free? Had he escaped from his captors? Neither was true. He brought a message from the German commander.
Chaplain Hayes had been marched up the heavily-wooded hill through a devastating barrage from American artillery beyond the German defensive positions to the headquarters of the commander. The Nazi officer had made a proposal.
"Chaplain," he had said, "the Americans have captured three or four high-ranking German officers in the area; we have several hundred American prisoners."
"Now, I propose to exchange all the Americans for those German officer," the German officer continued, in substance. "I want you to take my proposal to the American commander. I shall guarantee you safe conduct through our positions, and I shall have a party to meet you on the road at the foot of the hill tonight. You can notify us by radio when you are prepared to return so that we can watch for your safety."
"But we have no German radio; I couldnt notify you," the chaplain had protested.
"Dont worry about that. Just send the message on your own radio, and well get it all right."
"Very well, sir, I shall return as soon as I can get the answer."
Here was someone who had seen the enemys positions. Every intelligence officer up the line would be anxious to question him. Briefly, the chaplain went up "through channels," found the corps commander would entertain no such proposals, and came back through channels to arrive at Regiment in the evening. He was preparing to return to the rendezvous.
"But chaplain, you dont want to risk going back to those Germans; youre free now; theyre not supposed to take chaplains prisoner anyway," the regimental commander told him.
"But I promised; I gave my word of honor," the chaplain insisted.
"Very well," the C.O. said, and slipped quietly outside to order the provisional M.P. platoon to put the chaplain under arrest. Thus could he remain with his own Regiment with a clear conscience.
There were indications as the battalions - the 1st on the right, 2nd in the center, 3rd Battalion, 137th, on the left - began their advance on 10 August that the enemy had had all he could take in that particular location. There still was bitter resistance, to be sure, but once again the battalions could give that reassuring report which had become so common: "moving forward." One example of the determination to keep moving forward in the 2nd Battalion was the action of Staff Sergeant Robert A. Meier of Kansas, a squad leader of Company F. In an exchange of close-range fire, Sergeant Meiers rifle was shot from his hands and broken; but this served to free his hand for grenade work, and he proceeded to destroy two machine gun positions in the hedgerows with the hand explosives. Soon Father Hayes rendezvous point had been overrun, and hedgerow to hedgerow the battalions continued slowly. Another blow came to Company A as its commander, 1st Lt. Edgar H. Keltner, Jr. of Texas, moved forward to coordinate the fire against the enemy machine guns and tanks and was severely wounded.
The regimental C.P., initially following the 3rd Battalion, had returned to a location a mile north of Notre Dame where it would be in rear of the battalions now engaged in the difficult fighting. Progress permitted another move forward for the C.P. shortly after noon.
More that that, the Regiments progress, together with that of the 320th Infantry on the left, permitted a task force composed of that regiments 1st Battalion and tanks of the 737th Tank Battalion to undertake a dash north toward Mortain in a effort to reach the beleaguered "Lost Battalion" of the 30th Division. In a hectic night of battling, that special mission was successful in making contact two days later, and it followed up with delivery of supplies (under armored escort) and evacuation of wounded.
For the 134th Infantry, it was heavy resistance again when orders came to dig in for the night.
Even this was not necessarily an undesirable development, for heavy resistance at nightfall frequently was a prelude to withdrawal, and intelligence reports suggested that this might be the case now.
It was another 0600 attack on 11 August, and it held little promise as far as members of the 1st Battalion could see, for they reported "at least four tanks to their front." Patrols from the 2nd Battalion, however, discovered no enemy 300 yards to the front. Actually the enemy was withdrawing, and before noon the 1st Battalion was on its objective, and the 2nd Battalion as well as the 3rd Battalion, 137th Infantry, was moving with almost equal rapidity. The regimental C.P. was able to move up all the way to La Ga Hamel, south of St. Jean du Cordl, at noon.
Reports came to the 1st Battalion that there were some wounded American soldiers in a house some distance to the front, behind enemy lines, and Master Sergeant Edward F. Bloch of New York, military intelligence interpreter with the Regiment, went with a combat patrol to investigate the reports. Though resistance had subsided in front of the 1st Battalion, the patrol found that the enemy remained to resume his defense against further advance. It was a discovery made at close quarters, and Sergeant Bloch assumed the role of combat leader rather than interpreter to lead a squad in the capture of a German outpost. Upon interrogation of the prisoners, then, Sergeant Bloch was able to obtain information of enemy defenses which contributed in large measure toward their subsequent elimination.
Also curious about the reported wounded Americans and the situation to the front of the 1st Battalion were B Companys Lieutenant Edward K. Hum and First Sergeant Eldon H. Bunn of Nebraska. Their reconnaissance too was interrupted by an encounter with Germans. But this time they were far outnumbered and the Germans were approaching, not waiting. There was time for only a brief exchange of fire, and enemy soldiers closed in upon Sergeant Bunn and hustled him away. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Hum had hit the ground; he was playing dead! He sweat blood as he called upon every ounce of determination to deny his body the urge to tremble. Two or three of the Germans walked over to him; they looked at his face, kicked him in the side, mumbled something, and walked away. Hum lay quietly until darkness brought concealment to him, and then he hurried back, alone, to his company.
The 2nd Battalion was having a more difficult time of it, and it stopped before a well-organized defensive position at 1630. Night patrols encountered hostile machine gun fire, but the battalions were able to occupy the whole of the regimental objective early the next morning (12 August). There was little reward for the infantrymen for their success, however, for once again the occupation of an objective only brought the earlier assignment of another - another hill several hundred yards to the northeast. The 1st Battalion led in the new attack, the 2nd following in column. The enemy was not yet ready to abandon the whole area, however; his withdrawal had been only far enough to set up defenses on a new terrain feature. After knocking out a tank, the 1st Battalion found itself up against the new position at 1345, and soon after, the 2nd Battalion too was involved in a fire fight at the bottom of the hill which was the objective.
Another letter from Mortain.
11 August, 1944.
Today is a real summer day - one of our hottest. Its the kind that would be good for going to a ball game or going swimming.
Things keep changing so rapidly around here that one hardly knows what to expect next. Everyone keeps hoping for a breather to wash up good and catch up on a little sleep.
Frenchmen are still in their houses around here and do not seem too concerned with the noise going on about them. When there gets to be too much excitement they load everything they can carry into their two-wheeled carts and disappear to the rear. As soon as it is safe, back they come, wondering whether they have a home left, and move in - even if only into ruins.
Much of the country in the section does not have that striking war-torn look until you come upon some specific locality which has been hard hit.
The trees, the hedge-lined meadows and grain fields offer a striking appearance - how unfortunate that they should be viewed just as holding places for guns!
Meanwhile the 3rd Battalion, 134th Infantry, was participating in a new attack with the sister 137th Infantry Regiment. It had moved around through Barenton the preceding evening in order to attack to the northwest toward a major hill position (while the rest of the 134th was attacking northeast). While the men of one of the platoons crouched behind a hedgerow that evening to await orders, one of them - a newly-arrived replacement - had turned to a battalion staff member who happened by.
"Sir, will it be very rough? I just came up, and I dont know much about it," he had said quietly and seriously.
"Well, sometimes its not so bad, but other times it gets very rough; but I think were going to come out all right this time." The officer was anxious not to frighten him by drawing too dark a picture, but, at the same time, he did not want him to think that it was going to be anything easy. Most men never had realized how heavy the casualties were going to be in a rifle platoon.
"Im afraid I may not know just what to do all the time," the soldier continued.
"Do you know your sergeants - your squad leader and assistant squad leader?"
"Yes sir, thats my squad leader right over there."
"Well, dont get too far away from them, and do everything they tell you; when in doubt ask them; then you do everything as much as you can just like they taught you back in training - that will work all right."
The 3rd Battalion had gained its first objective by sending out a combat patrol - a reinforced platoon - to occupy it during the night. But when it resumed the attack that afternoon, it encountered the same kind of stubborn resistance which was troubling the 1st and 2nd Battalions. Lt. Col. Robert E. Moore was close behind the assaulting companies to direct the attack. He paused behind a small barn (with his command group) as firing became intense, but a high angle mortar round dropped behind this relative cover, and once again the 3rd Battalion command group was hit. Colonel Moore had to be evacuated, and so did the artillery liaison officer, and several men of the party. Captain Ray Carroll found himself splattered with scores of tiny wounds, but he remained until Captain Harlan B. Heffelfinger, executive officer, came forward to take command, and then he left the battalion only long enough for emergency treatment at the aid station.
All this was only a few hours before the Regiment was to be relieved. At 1810 a call came from division to send guides to pick up trucks again. That night parties arrived from the 8th Infantry, and soon units of the regiment were marching up to take over the positions of the 134th.
Upon completion of the relief the next morning, units of the 134th Infantry assembled in an area 3,000 yard east of Notre Dame to await orders for movement.
Throughout this whole week of attacks near Mortain, the enemy had held stubbornly to his desperate efforts to continue his drive toward Avranches and the sea. Indeed he showed no signs of letting up until 12 August - the day that relief arrived for the 134th Infantry.
This detour back to the hedgerow country had been a costly one for the Regiment. In the weeks fighting there had been approximately 500 casualties in the Regiment, about 130 of them killed. It had cost the 3rd Battalion its second commander, and the third commanding officer for the 2nd Battalion.
Later the news came that Colonel Thomsen, after earlier promise of improvement, had died of wounds he had received back south of Conde sur Vire. His loss was another of the frightful losses of war for the men who had depended upon him so much for leadership. But he had impressed his personality so indelibly upon that battalion that his courage became its courage, and its victories in the days to come would just as certainly be his victories.
The new assembly, again on a bright, sunny day, restored enthusiasm throughout the ranks of the Regiment. Once more men relaxed and prepared to move out early the next morning (14 August) again to rejoin General Pattons Third Army.
Hundreds of Nazi propaganda leaflets were given a distribution in the Mortain area beyond the greatest hopes of the Germans. Men of the 134th Infantry picked up bundles of the leaflets stacked in captured houses, and soon everyone was collecting them as souvenirs. They played upon themes of British-American rivalry, on the uselessness of continued fighting, and the safety of prisoner-of-war camps. One copiously illustrated number showed an American sergeant with an English girl who was saying:
"You Americans are s-o-o-o different!"
And on the other side it pictured a British soldiers grave and said:
You are fighting and dying far away from your county while the Yanks are putting up their tents in Merry Old England. Theyve got lots of money and loads of time to chase after your women."
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