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The Mortain-Avranches corridor, secured, the race of the Third United States Army through France was on. On 14 August, the 35th was assigned to the XII Corps of this Army and moved to a new assembly area east of Le Mans.
The first objective in this area was local security as preparations were made for the big drive. Combat teams were formed and each were charged with the responsibility of their own areas. In addition, Combat Team 320, with the 35th Reconnaissance Troop attached, was given the mission of protecting the south flank of the Third Army from La Fleche to La Chartre.
Sixty-five miles south of Paris on the north bank of the Loire River lies one of the oldest and most magnificent of French cities, Orleans. Here was the center of freedom loving Frenchmen. This was the home of Joan of Arc.
The Germans used Orleans as the seat for the occupational forces in this section of France. Here they had built a great airfield and stored vast supplies.
Le Mans to Orleans is approximately eighty miles. The breakthrough to the south was complete. Confusion reigned in the German ranks. Now, with the Loire River as right flank protection, General Patton was ready to change direction and strike in blitzkrieg fashion to the east. With only a road map to guide them, the Santa Fe was ordered to capture Orleans.
Morale was high as the division began to roll. Task Force "S," commanded by Brigadier General Sebree and consisting of Combat Team 137, Company D, 737th Tank Battalion, Company B and Reconnaissance Company of the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 127th Field Artillery Battalion was selected by General Baade to lead. Later Combat Command A of the 4th Armored Division was attached to the 35th and spearheaded this attack.
General Sebree began the movement in the direction of Orleans at 1100 on 15 August. Tanks of the 4th and doughboys of the 35th formed in a great team and swept aside all opposition. Literally, they raced down the fine French highway. Thirty hours later they stood before Orleans itself as a new page was written in the blitzkrieg book.
Much evidence appeared along the road which showed the loss of equipment suffered by the enemy. Burned and overturned German tanks, guns, trucks, trailers, and other items of warfare were strewn along the countryside. In several places complete motor pools had been destroyed as the allied airmen raked the countryside ahead of the dashing ground forces.
As the Task Force closed in upon Orleans, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 137th were on the north while the 1st was pushing south to the Loire. Some resistance was encountered in the woods between Coulmiers and Ormes and casualties were suffered at this point.
As the advance continued through Ormes, a suburb of Orleans, a large German warehouse was captured which contained a complete stock of new kitchen equipment as well as a large supply of motor fuel. A machine shop was also found stocked with airplane motors and other ordnance.
Pushing into Orleans, the 137th's 2nd Battalion reached the railroad crossing on the Ormes highway at 1300 on 16 August. Two hours later the 3rd Battalion was in the northwest part of the city and at 1900 the City Hall was captured.
In the meantime on 15 - 16 August, the other units of the 35th were also having a field day. Combat Teams 134 and 320 were dashing down the Orleans highway. The 134th advanced to the vicinity of Binas Verdas where, in addition to being in reserve, they patrolled and cleaned out enemy stragglers in the rear areas and guarded the Santa Fe's line of communications.
As Combat Team 320 was ready to proceed down the Le Mans - Orleans road on the evening of 15 July its mission was suddenly changed. Chateaudun, 40 miles to the northwest of Orleans, was the objective. Throughout the night the unit rolled. The next morning as they advanced from Veray, heavy small arms, mortar, artillery and rocket fire fell among them. But the dauntless 320th pressed the attack and by noon, 17 August, Chateaudun fell. In addition, the 320th captured the by-passed town of Cloyes. The front line of the Santa Fe was forty miles long!
In Orleans, despite machine gun and heavy artillery fire from German positions across the Loire River and a constant sniper menace, there were very few casualties in the Task Force. During the night, occupation of the city was completed and by morning all hostile resistance had had withdrawn across the river. The Germans had left dynamite, bombs and other explosives in the post office, the telephone building and other places. The bridge across the Loire was destroyed along with the water mains, cutting off the city's water supply. But the 60th Engineers saved the situation by supplying from 60,000 to 80,000 gallons of water per day.
The citizenry went wild with joy at the quick and expeditious manner in which the Germans had been ousted. Apparently the decision to withdraw had been a hasty one. They had pulled out of the Feldcommandatur 589 so quickly that the staff left soup and stew uneaten on the dinner table and warm soapy water in the bathtub. This headquarters was later occupied by General Sebree, and Feldcommandatur was changed to Santa Fe.
It appeared, with all their reputation for thoroughness, that the jittery Nazis had neglected to notify all of their army agencies of the evacuation. A German airman, unaware that the city was in American hands, attempted to land at the airport north of the city and was destroyed when he tried to make a last-minute getaway.
Many valuable maps and documents were found intact and a vast amount of military intelligence was culled from these. Much information was also obtained from the Free French and the Maquis who met the Americans as they entered the city.
Though the Germans were still across the river and occasionally sent machine gun and artillery fire into Orleans, the happy citizens considered the city freed and had a great celebration. On 17 August, the American leaders were notified at 0940 that their presence was requested at the festivities which were to take place at 1000. General Sebree, Colonel Ellsworth of Division Artillery, Colonel Sears, Commanding Officer of the 137th Infantry, and 2nd Lieutenant Anders N. Kullander, aide to General Sebree, attended. The delirious crowds paraded through the streets carrying banners of the allied nations with signs proclaiming the slogans of allied victory. Thousands along the way shouted their enthusiastic greeting to the Americans.
The parade moved down the Rue de la Republique to the Statue of the Maid of Orleans at the city's center. The buildings around the square were demolished and even the base of the statue was damaged. The statue itself, however, was untouched.
The newly appointed Commissioner for the Republic, M. Andre Mars introduced the American officers, each of whom made a few appropriate remarks. The ceremonies ended with the singing of that great song of liberty "La Marseillaise" while the crowd threw flowers at the statue.
At 1400 on the 17th the Germans again began to shell the city from across the river, but General Sebree sent the following message to General Baade through Major Clarence E. Woods, Assistant G-2:
"I am neither confused nor confounded. I can hold the city against two divisions - not against two corps, but two division."
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