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. The next morning, (2 September) a 60 mile march with the 2nd BN in the lead, was fairly uneventful. Shortly after midnight, the 314th was at its objective - an assembly area northwest of St. Armand - two miles from the Belgian border. In 72 hours, the 79th Division covered 180 miles through enemy-held territory, crossed the bridgeless Somme, and reached the objective.
Major General Charles H. Corlett called it "...one of the fastest...advances of comparable distance by an infantry division in warfare." The 79th Division crossed the Belgian border, becoming the first American division to do so. As reward, the 314th drew three days of R & R. The added bonus was that the enemy had pulled out so fast the Division ran out of gas trying to keep up.
Click map to enlarge
Charmes and the Moselle River
At 0300, 7 September, the 314th headed for the cathedral city of Rheims to hook up with XV Corps. The 79th had been dispatched to cover the exposed east flank of Patton's 3rd Army. The Regiment traveled 158 miles to an assembly area eight miles east of Rheims. The German 19th Army was being overrun by the United States' 7th Army and was fleeing back towards Germany through a corridor near Charmes on the Moselle River. On 8 September, the 79th moved in to prepare positions to shut down the escape route on the left flank of the Corps section.
The 2nd and 3rd BNs had worked to set up road blocks on the Cirey-sur-Blaise-Vignory line when orders were sent on 10 September for the 79th to move east and secure the west bank of the Moselle, between Charmes and Epinal.
On 11 September, the column set off, accompanied by the 106th Cavalry Group, to screen for any advancing German troops. The Cavalry had the enemy held at bay in Neufchateau, Poussay and Mirecort. At 1915, the 1st BN disembarked just outside the town limits, and went on foot into Socourt. The advancing elements received some small arms fire as patrols moved down the canal to the city. They were pushed back. 2nd BN buttoned down on "Hill 376" outside of Socourt, and 3rd on the opposite end, kept eyes out on the road between Socourt and Gripport. The 314th Regiment had advanced across the front of the entire German 16th Infantry Division (deployed from Neufchateau to the Moselle) and was unaware they did so.
While awaiting the consolidation of the column (313th was fighting to clear Poussay), on 12 September, Regimental HQ sent I&R and L/Co out to secure the southern approaches into Charmes (which were secured at 1800.) 1st BN, with tank support, was coming into Charmes from the north. After six hours of fighting, and tank and artillery rounds, 1st had the heart of the town.
Charmes is divided into half by the Moselle River, and as the battalions met up at the bridge, the Germans blew it up. After exploring, the 1st BN found a ford roughly 800 yards north of town, regrouped, and crossed at 1930. 2nd BN moved down to take over 3rd's position at the roadblock to Gripport.
In taking the city of Charmes, the 314th also captured an airplane motor repair company, 350 airplane motors, one 88-mm gun, two 75-mm guns and a 20-mm AA gun. By 0925, 13 September, the 1st BN had cleared the balance of Charmes with little resistance. 3rd BN set up south of the city and 1st patrolled the eastern bank of the Moselle.
For two days, the 314th patrolled Charmes while awaiting the remainder of the Division to catch up. After the 313th and 315th secured Poussay and Neufchateau respectively, the two regiments closed into Charmes on 15 September. Word on an enemy uprising near the French-held sector reached the unit in Charmes on 16 September.
Ten German tanks accompanied the force, but it reached no further than Chatel. Rumors of a counter-offensive were so rampant that the 314th planned to move out. But only four tanks appeared, and they were dealt with swiftly by the 773rd Tank Destroyer BN. On 18 September, 1944, Bing Crosby showed up in Charmes, and the entire Division gathered in the airplane factory to hear him perform. During the show, the 314th went on alert to move out ASAP.
The 106th Cavalry patrols had spotted 15 German tanks and an infantry column stretching over a mile in length moving through Vallois to Gerberville. The 79th was dispatched to cover the west bank of the Mortagne between Luneville and Gerberville by midnight. The 313th and 315th Regiments drew the trucks for a run to Lamath while the 314th had to march its way to Haudonville. The 314th made it to Moriviller in three hours, but reports of enemy activity near Gerberville stopped them until dawn.
By 1000, 19 September, the 1st and 3rd BNs had Haudonville secured. Past Haudonville, the next objective was Marainviller on the Vezouse. To get there, the Division had to cross two hazardous rivers - the first, Mortagne at Haudonville. After building a ford, hampered by a soft riverbed and withstanding sporadic enemy attacks, the Division was ready to cross at 2000.
Darkness forestalled until the next day. The advance had to wait.
At dawn, 20 September, 1st BN moved out to secure Gerberville. Meeting slight resistance, they secured at 0745. At 1015, the 314th moved out towards Fraimbois and Marainviller - 3rd BN leading, 2nd BN center, and the 1st BN bringing up the rear. The move to Fraimbois was peaceful, but Division HQ reported troops in the woods on both sides. 3rd BN was ordered to hold in town while the 2nd advanced to take over the lead, and the 1st moved northwest to its position.
To the right wooded area of 3rd BNs position, patrols found a cache of German weaponry and vehicles. Seemingly abandoned, the enemy could not get them across the river in time to outrun the Division's advance. 2nd BN established road blocks northeast and southeast of town, and 3rd BN moved up to a position overlooking the Meurthe River...what was to be the site of the Division's bloodiest victory.
Crossing the Meurthe River
Below the 3rd BN position lay what was seen as the overwhelming task of crossing the Meurthe River. It moved too fast to build a solid ford, the banks were barren and provided no cover, and on the German side it was worse. Bald banks led to a wooded area perfect for enemy cover. The only buildings in site were a group of barns located on the enemy side, several hundred yards from the bridge. At 1630, 20 September, TD's rolled into place on the ridge line. K/Co dispatched a six-man patrol to check out the bridge. They got to within 80 yards of the river when they were driven back by a German machine gunner. Regrouped, K/Co sent out a platoon of infantry along with a platoon of the 749th tanks to force the bridge, but the enemy force proved too great and they were forced back again. This left the 3rd BN holding on the ridge, 2nd at the outskirts of Fraimbois, and 1st BN in reserve between Gerberville and Fraimbois. The 313th and 315th Regiments were further north near Luneville looking for an alternative corridor. That night, the Germans blew the bridge.
Foret de ParroyAt 0600, 21 September, 3rd BN slid down the bluffs and moved toward the river on the flat lands. K and L/Companies made it to the river, but the L/Co area was too mucky for tank support. Both companies made it to the riverbanks with no opposition. L/Co sent a small patrol across and back successfully, but when a larger force was deployed, eight enemy guns fired from the barns on the eastern bank driving them back for cover. K/Co had better luck. The entire Company ferried across the river with I/Co following. The objective was a roadway, called the St. Clement-Moncel, 400 yards away, and their advance was peppered with enemy machine gun fire and mortar bursts. The crossing cost a heavy price; I/Co had to fall back across the Meurthe to regroup. This left only one platoon of K/Co behind to hold the position.
The showdown was set for 0530, 22 September and was kicked off by a 15-minute artillery barrage. K and L/Companies moved out to take the St. Clement-Moncel highway. K/Co reached the objective, but L/Co got pinned down on the west bank by machine gunners firing from the farm area stronghold. Finally, two tanks managed to wade through the marshy area to L/Company's position. With the tanks leading the assault, they ran 27 enemy out of the barns. Another stalemate ensued as German anti-tank fire halted the infantry advance. I/Co regrouped to attack past the highway to the railroad tracks. The Company destroyed five enemy machine gun nests, clearing the highway. F/Co was sent to cover I/Company's rear after reports of enemy tank sightings. The Regiment had it's objective, and the engineers were sent in to build a bridge overnight.
At 0430, 23 September, the bridge was completed. Anti-tank units were the first to cross and the day was spent moving the troops around to further secure the area. Patrols reported little resistance, and what was left was dealt with by mortar and artillery fire. At 1600, elements of the 314th met up with the 313th's southward advance. The enemy was fleeing, but the 314th's positions were too haphazard to allow pursuit. Once the dust had settled, the 79th Division, 314th Regiment had lost the equivalent in casualties to one-quarter of a battalion - most occurring in the 3rd BN's ranks. The 3rd BN received a Presidential Unit Citation for its part in the Meurthe River battle.
The Foret de Parroy
On 24 September, Marainviller was secured and A/Co held guard while the rest of the 1st BN patrolled the edge of the Foret de Mondon, along the Fraimbois-Marainviller road.
They passed discarded equipment left by the 2nd Cavalry, for they had run out of gas: six light tanks, three assault guns, and several Jeeps. This had occurred earlier in September when the Germans were so disorganized they were still on the other side of the Siegfried Line. Then, the troops could drive across the Meurthe without drawing fire.
An A/Co platoon crossed the bridge at Marainviller over the Vesouze River on 25 September to check out the outer edges of the Foret de Parroy. The patrol was cut short by enemy small arm and mortar fire. Intelligence reports showed the forest was held in strength, so the 314th was ordered to remain south of the Vesouze and continue patrolling.
1st BN worked the expanse of the river trying to find a crossing point. A patrol near town drew fire, as well as one east of the city. All along, artillery was being poured on the city itself.
Field orders for the next attack came down from Division on 26 September: XV Corps was to clear the Foret de Parroy. The 79th on the left, the 2nd French Armored on the right. Prefacing this advance was a bomber run out of XIX TAC. 79th's battle plan had the 313th and 315th on the northeast drive with the 314th in reserve at Foret de Mondon preparing to cross the Vesouze at one of three points: Chanteheux, Croismare of Marainviller. The attack was set to begin on 27 September, but weather delayed the bombers.
On 28 September, a 75-minute bombing assault took place with minimal effect to the enemy. The bulk of the German troops in Foret de Parroy were veterans of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division, and had seen combat - complete with dive bombing runs - in Sicily and Italy. Two hours after the bombs were away, the 313th and 315th Regiments attacked.
At midnight, XV Corps went over to the Seventh Army - the third of six U.S. designations committed to the European Theater of Operations; First, Third, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Fifteenth.
The 314th's 2nd BN located a ford near Croismare for future use. On 29 September, the Regiment sent several patrols out scouting, and after a Divisional CP meeting, the 314th received orders to move out across Croismare and join the 313th and 315th in the fight. The timing of the 314th's advance was directly relational to the progress of the other two regiments. Word came in that the troops were meeting with harsh counter-attacks for every advance they made, so the 314th's jump-off was postponed until 1 October.
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