On 1 August, 1944, the 79th Division (as a unit, belonged to VIII Corps) went under control of General Patton's 3rd Army at midnight. The assignment was to march down the Britany Peninsula behind the 6th Armored, but the 79th's mission changed. On 2 August, they would join XV Corps to protect the 3rd Army's flank on an approach to the German communications center at Fougeres. The 314th, on a southern course, headed for an assembly area south of St. James.
City of Fougeres
They were greeted by flower-laden French townspeople and three ragged French buglers in worn out uniforms playing the Star Spangled Banner. Fougeres was secured early in the morning of 3 August. The mission was to set up a defense around the town, and after spending two days preparing, 5 August brought orders to march 35-40 miles south to Laval.
After the 314th, accompanied by the 313th Regiment, arrived in Laval, they were sent to Change, just north of Laval. En route, orders changed and the destination became the hills leading to the Mayenne River. At 1115, the 1st and 3rd BN's attacked and established a bridgehead by late in the day. No resistance was met on this latest push, so the 79th moved onward to Le Mans. Talk of Paris, only 125 miles away, began to circulate among the troops. After a light fire fight, the 79th reached Le Mans on 8 August. Word came that at Le Mans the 79th would revert to Corps reserves with the 90th Division and 5th Armored in relief. Two days of rest was had in Le Mans by the 79th/314th.
Click map to enlarge
On 10 August, orders sent the 79th along with the 90th, 5th Armored and the 2nd French Armored to the southern edge of the Falaise Gap after the damaged remnants of the German 15th Army. The 314th moved out, with it's Regimental combat team of the 311th Field Artillery, B/Companies of the 749th Tank and 304th Medical BNs, and B/Co of the 304th Engineers. The column led off with the I&R (Intelligence and Reconnaissance) guys leading the way, arrived just southwest of Bonnetable that night.
The 314th moved up behind the 5th Armored to prepare a defensive position on 11 August just south of the Foret de Perseigne. Original plans for an aerial attack on the region were called off and the troops re-routed around the Foret and moved on to La Mele-sur-Sarthe. During this move, the 2nd BN in the column's lead, was strafed by an unidentified plane, suffering eleven wounded. The battalions regrouped northwest of La Mele, and billeted for two days. On 15 August, orders arrived from Division for an advance on Versailles and Paris immediately. XV Corps took off in two columns - 5th Armored on the left, 79th following the 106th Cavalry on the right. A 77-mile advancement placed the Divisions near Nogent le Roi.
On 15 August, the German 15th Army had been cut off and surrounded. They were attempting to escape through a small gap near Falaise when attacked by heavy Allied forces. The results were high losses on both sides: several entire German divisions, including Panzer and SS, were destroyed. The 313th and 315th established bridgeheads across the Evre River on 16 August, while the 314th drew reserve and enjoyed some much needed time off. The main topic of conversation was laying 60 miles away - Paris. It was almost destined, to them at least, that the 79th Division would be the liberating unit.
On 18 August, orders for the 79th to move north and take over Mantes-Gassicort were issued. Located 40 miles outside of Paris, it was the key point of German escape routes across the Seine after the Falaise Pocket disaster.
Troops headed to the Falaise Gap. XV Corps, with 5th Armored on the left and the 79th on the right, moved out.
On 19 August, 1944, a small task force was dispatched to go into Mantes-Gassicort to stop any lateral movements by the enemy on the south bank of the Seine. A/Co riflemen stopped and captured a German dispatch rider along with his dispatch case and motorcycle.
The 314th was deployed, aided by 76 assault boats and B/Co from the 304th Engineer Battalion on 20 August. The 313th had reached its assembly area without incident, so at 0825 the 314th crossed the Seine River from the south bank. Once ashore, the 1st and 3rd BNs went east to secure the main road between Limay and Fontenoy St. Pere. C/Co ran into two German vehicles - one carrying fuel and ammunition (promptly taken out by a bazooka blast) - the other carrying troops. The Germans hurriedly deployed and a fierce firefight ensued. It was quickly over with the 3rd BN eliminating one-half of the opposition and both battalions registered 40 POWs.
By nightfall, 20 August, 2nd BN was in reserve at Regimental CP - 1st and 3rd in solid positions of defense. Around the CP area, there were five 88-mm guns, eight multiple 20-mm AA guns and plenty of ammunition, but thankfully no German soldiers.
On 21 August, the 314th extended the bridgehead 1000 yards further southeast. A battalion from the 315th took over the southern part of the Regimental sector. In the morning, a group of 150 German troops was spotted moving towards the river road near Limay. F/Co, supported by tanks and a platoon from the Anti-Tank Company sent the Germans headed back to Berlin with the first assault. A few other small skirmishes broke out randomly, but the real battle began late the night of 21 August in the 1st BN sector.
Troops from the 36th Luftwaffe Field Regiment, supported by five King Tiger tanks, had arrived from Holland and moved south from Drocourt into the 1st BN outposts. A/Companies outpost was driven back and a few men captured. The rest of 1st BNs outposts were driven back to the main line of resistance. Fighting continued well after midnight. It was an anxious night for the 314th, as this was the first real counterattack in force the enemy had mounted. Only the artillery barrages launched by Division Artillery and the 30 Batteries attached from Corps broke up the first enemy attack.
At 0700, 22 August, German infantry, supported by four tanks, hit the 3rd BN from the south, forcing I and L/Co to pull back. But the Germans, known for being stingy on its armor usage, sent their tanks back to the German assembly area. I/Co regrouped and, supported by B/Co of the 749th Tank BN, caught the German infantry cold. By just before noon, 3rd BNs lines were re-established. 1st BN had it somewhat easier as the resistance they faced had no armor support.
On 24 August, at 0600, XV Corps (including the 79th) went over to 1st Army control. Work continued as before, laying anti-tank mines and stringing wire preparing for the next wave of German attacks. The Luftwaffe roughed up the 3rd BN area that day, and to the left, the 2nd BN was set in the event of an enemy breakthrough in the 1st BN lines. Not until midnight did the 314th see any action. A B/Co outpost was driven back from the woods southeast of Fontenoy St. Pere. The loss was short-lived, however. By 0230 (25 August) supported by artillery and mortar fire, the position was restored. The situation stayed fairly quiet throughout the rest of the night.
At 1630, 26 August, B/Company's position east of Guitrancourt and Fontenoy St. Pere was hit hard by a battalion of enemy which burst through the woods accompanied by five tanks. 3rd BN's lines were hit by another infantry attack supported by armor, but the combined artillery, small arms and 57-mm High Explosive fire staved off the enemy, and cost them wholesale casualties. In the 1st BN area, German King Tiger tanks were on a rampage. The battalion was taking a heavy hit but managed with small arms, and a few well-placed bazooka rounds, to disable two of the tanks. They held on until artillery pushed back the German attack.
Crossing the Seine River
On 27 August, the 314th moved 20 miles north to Vernon where the British 43rd Division had crossed the Seine. 3rd BN was sent to a point 200 yards south of Fontenoy St. Pere, directly to 2nd's right flank, and just in behind 1st BN. After a few setbacks courtesy of German resistance, the 749th Tank BN and artillery fire helped the 314th meet its objective. The 3rd BN rolled into Drocourt on 28 August, 1944, supported by nine tanks. The 2nd, with armor support, took residence on the high ground northwest of Drocourt. Ahead, the remains of the German 18th Luftwaffe Field Division (keystone unit of t he Paris Defenses) went back towards Germany, beaten.
At midnight, 28 August, the 79th was transferred to XIX Corps control. The 29 August objective was to take a sanitarium held by the Germans near Le Tremblay. Backed up by the 2nd Armored Division, the 1st BN reached its section, with the 2nd BN arriving to the east two hours later. The breakthrough was on, and well ahead of schedule. Operations had XIX Corps going east towards the Belgian front on line - the 2nd Armored Division on the left, the 30th Division on the right, with the 79th down the center. On 30 August, the I&R led off with tanks, two platoons from 3rd BN, a platoon of tank destroyers (TDs), Cannon Company, with 1st and 2nd BNs bringing up the rear. At Henonville, the lead elements of the column ran into an enemy demolition crew setting off an ammunition dump. They were dispatched after blowing only one bunker. The march forward was progressing smoothly and quite fast, driving deeper into eastern France. 31 August found the troops in the vicinity of Mouy, but the real push to the border began 1 September. The emphasis of troop movement was on speed. The 79th split into two motorized combat teams with the 314th on the left. Five hours of riding, and the column had covered half the distance to the objective. They crossed the Somme, ever wary of ground resistance and the Luftwaffe, at 0215, 2 September.
This outline is compiled from research material provided by personal accounts, unit diaries, online sources, "The Complete History of World War Two" edited by Francis T. Miller (1948) and the 314th Infantry Association's "Through Combat." A special thanks to J.W. Campbell and Dwight Pruitt.
17 September 2003