Combat Experience

From:
SECOND UNITED STATES CAVALRY – A HISTORY
Compiled, edited and published by Historical Section, Second Cavalry Association
Maj. A. L. Lambert and Cpt. G. B. Layton, 2d Cavalry

by Major Andrews, 42d Squadron

22-31 July 1944

In the early morning of 22 July an excited Frenchman scrambled into the 42d Sq. CP, hat in hand, and mumbled something about a “Boche dans le Bois”, “Fermiers ont grand peur”, and “quelques kilometers”, in a more or less incoherent jumble, while waiving an arm to the northeast.

Major Pitman and Capt. Lambert, the only ones pretending to understand French went into a huddle and came up with the bright idea that there must be some infiltration groups of Germans bent on sabotage of the American lines, or some parachutists dropped behind our lines to wreak all sorts of hell, or maybe just some poor Krauts hiding out in the woods after being cut off when the American forces sealed off the Cherbourg Peninsula a few weeks before. At any rate Major Pitman suggested to the Col. that it would be a good opportunity for the men to get some combat experience by clearing the woods and orchards to the northeast and running down the Germans.

Major White, the S-3, ordered T/Sgt. Edelstein to draw up his plan for the operation employing all the troops dismounted.

The appropriate concentration areas were marked on the operations map and “direction of attack” arrows slanted to the northeast.

When the troops fell out the officers of Squadron rear echelon accompanied them, anxious to miss no possibility of excitement.

After a short march the troops deployed in lines of skirmishers with scouts proceeding, beating the bushes for the enemy.

The only German found was a partly decomposed body who must have fallen when the Americans drove on Cherbourg (map UB) weeks before. Capt. Maurice J. Shroyer can prove it.

Another lad who wanted combat experience early was “Big Red” Miclow of the 42d Maint. Section. He went down to St. Lo (map I) to see what war was like; he found out. The jeep next to his was holed by an 88 and Mike came back a semi-permanent pale green color. Not until he hit a mine at Luneville (map IV) did he come so close.

Troops A and B of the 42d Cav. Sq. landed at Utah Beach (map UB) and joined the Squadron at Sauxemenil (map UB) late in the afternoon of 22 July, bringing the Group up to full strength.

A personal reconnaissance by Squadron Commanders and Troop Officers was made on 23 July covering their respective sectors of responsibility and inspections of equipment and vehicles were held prior to loading in preparation for movement on 24 July.

Elements of the 2d Cav. Sq. cleared their respective areas at 0730 to occupy their assigned sectors.

Troop missions included the posting of stationary guards and the use of motorized patrols to protect military installations and to assist Civil Affairs detachments and the Counter-Intelligence Corps in controlling any violation of security.

This was our first opportunity to inspect at close range the mighty forts and defense works of Cherbourg Harbor (map CP), for they had to be guarded to keep civilians and soldiers from looting evacuated installations; as well as to shield them from the danger presented by the numerous mines and booby traps that the German 709th Division, which had defended Cherbourg, had scattered throughout their positions.

In spite of all precautions an occasional soldier from the harbor repair companies would enter one of the thousands of underground fort tunnels in search of rumored liquor stores, and become severely injured.

On the 26th of July just a few miles south of our area in Normandy, at a place named St. Lo – began an operation that was to cost the Germans their chance to win the war, and it was called Operation Cobra (map OC), designed by General Patton as Deputy Commander of 12th Army Group over the VII and VIII Corps, to break the hinge of the German line to the west coast of the Cotentin Peninsula (map OC) and spring the Third Army and the Second Cavalry into the clear past Avranches (map OC), where their superior mobility could run the German forces into the ground.

As that day dawned three thousand Allied planes pounded one tiny sector of the German line, below the St. LoPeriers (map OC) road. The enemy was stunned; and the 2d and 3rd Armored Divisions plunged forward like the twin fangs of a cobra toward Lessay (map OC) and Coutances (map OC). The 4th and 6th Armored Divisions, followed by the 1st, 5th, 30th, and 90th Infantry Divisions, pounded behind them. The shaky German defenders were overrun. Lessay was reached on the 27th and Coutances fell the following day. The men of the Second Cavalry closely following the news from the front were muttering to themselves, “Breakthrough, Breakthrough!” For when that was accomplished, when Avranches had been passed, it meant one thing – exploitation; a Cavalry mission, and we felt in our hearts that the Second Cavalry would lead it.

An incident occurred in the aid tent of the 42d Squadron near Sauxemenil at this stage to lessen the tension somewhat. It seems that Major James H. Pitman, Executive Officer of the 42d Squadron, had taken pre-medical training in college prior to attending West Point and becoming an officer. This stood him in good stead when on the 28th of July 1st Sgt. Olden of the Medical Detachment suddenly decided he needed an emergency operation. Capt. Coren, Squadron Surgeon, scrubbed for the operation and accompanied Major Pitman, who came forward in white frock and rubber gloves to examine the patient, prescribe a local anesthetic and call for his instruments.

“Scalpel.” The sharp knife was handed forward.

“Forceps”, and that instrument followed. The audience (Squadron Medical Detachment, including 1st Sgt.) craned forward to observe. There were murmurs of mixed admiration and criticism as the Major, perspiring, bent to the task, with an inaudible prompting of “Doc” Coren in his ear. Finally he straightened up and grinned broadly. “Patient and doctor are both well and resting easily”, he announced, as he stepped back and surveyed his workmanship. Doc Coren tacitly approved, and many a glass of cider was consumed in the telling of that tale when the Medical Detachment dispersed for the evening.

Just before we jumped off from Normandy, Capt. Chessir Watson, Motors Officer of the 42d, was called to the forward CP to evacuate our first gun fire vehicular casualty. Sgt. Shad, who came forward with him, evoked at the radiator of the vehicle demolished by the HE shell.

“Judas Priest!” he said, “Must have been indirect fire”. Sgt. Burns of the Communication Section who had observed the incident spoke up.

“Not exactly”, he said, “It was more like direct fire, but it was unobserved. You see, Sgt. Jefferies was in that armored car over there adjusting radio frequencies when his ass end got tied up on the breech of the 37mm gun and it went off.”

Our mission continued in Normandy, but one ear was bent toward the rumbling of tanks heading for the base of the Cotentin Peninsula. A few practice alerts were held and the patrolling and guard continued.

This type of work occupied the Group until 31 July when word was received that the 4th Armored Division of VIII Corps was beyond Avranches; and we received orders attaching the Group to VIII Corps of Patton’s Third Army. Spirits rose. Combat ahead!
Avranches
Avranches

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