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... Some 10 or 11 minutes beyond LeMans - always remembered by the soldiers of the 134th for its sidewalk cafes and thronging citizenry - the Regiment went into bivouac between 1800 and 2000 hours. The day’s movement had been of a kind completely foreign thus far to the 134th Infantry in France. Where a day’s advance had been measured in terms of two or three hedgerows, now they had moved farther in one day than in three weeks in Normandy. If this was the nature of open warfare, they were all for it. They awaited anxiously for news of the leading elements of the XII Corps. (Composed of the 35th and 80th Infantry Divisions and the 4th Armored Division, the XII Corps was commanded by Major General Manton S. Eddy.)
This news, when it came, was to the effect that a task force under Brig. Gen. Sebree, made up of the 137th Infantry, the 737th Tank Battalion and Combat Command A of the 4th Armored Division - and other special troops - was on the way to Orleans.
The rapid occupation of that historic old city called for a new 70-mile move to the east on the part of the 134th Infantry - now Corps reserve - on August 16. Transportation was available only for the 1st Battalion and regimental headquarters and special units, and when those units moved out at 1400, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions remained behind for a second day of rest while rumors of the spectacular advances and the impending fall of Paris continued to fly.
The Regiment collected at Semerville - 20 miles west of Orleans; with the closing in of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions at 0730 on August 17, there was another day’s pause to await developments. And sunny France was at her best. Here was an opportunity for officers and men to become more familiar with their units, to perfect their tactical organization, to discuss lessons to be found thus far in the experience of combat. Perhaps it was a little depressing to the buoyant spirits of the individual soldier to be asked to concentrate his thoughts on such perils as he had so recently escaped; but no responsible leader was taking the new turn in the nature of the war as meaning the end of vigorous combat. Optimism was bounding; there is no question about that but the battalions and the companies were seeking to preserve a psychological preparedness based on the assumption that plenty of work remained to be done. Yet, even a few hours’ training schedule was such a welcome change from unending combat of Normandy that officers and men alike greeted it enthusiastically. "Care and cleaning of equipment" was a far cry from continuous renewal of attack among hedgerows.
Even the hedgerows were no more in the open country of central France. Here great fields, which only a few weeks earlier had yielded their important crops of wheat, would rival those to be found in the American Middle West. If there were such a thing as "tank country" - (General Patton had said, "There is no such thing as ‘tank country’ in the restrictive sense. Some types of country are better than others, but tanks have and can operate anywhere.") if there is such a thing as "tank country" in the non-restrictive sense, then this appeared to be it.
Every effort was being made in this move to keep the soldiers informed of the events in which he was participating, and of actions on other fronts and in other theaters, and of news from the homeland. Stars and Stripes, the Army daily newspaper arrived with a high degree of regularity, battalion and regimental radios were able to pick up newscasts of the BBC (and of the Armed Forces Network, presently), and there were bulletins and maps sometimes available from the Information and Education Division. During this day among the groves of Central France, each unit was giving a portion of its training time to this subject of "orientation." The news – as far as the "big picture" was concerned – had been good most of the time since D-day. But now it was especially good. In recounting the news of the previous 24 hours, orientation officers described the battle which still raged in the Falaise – Argentan pocket a "massacre"; . . . The Air Corps was having a field day in working over some 3,000 vehicles; . . . there were reports of friction between SS and Wermacht troops; . . . the new Allied landings in southern France were moving rapidly, and already, within two day’s time, troops of the American Seventh and the French First Armies had extended the beach-head inland 25 miles and held an 80-mile front . . .on Germany’s other exposure the Russians had entered East Prussia . . .
Battalion intelligence officers undertook some road reconnaissance while the Regiment awaited orders for the next move. One report, for example referred to roads and distances to villages in the vicinity: bivouac to Verdes, 1.7 miles; Verdes to Membrolles – narrow, but good crushed stone road – 3 miles; Membrolles to Villampuy, (Juvrainville to Villampuy, narrow blacktop), 4.9 miles – 35th Rcn states enemy pulled out Patay 0400, 35th into Patay, 1100; Villampuy to water tower, .4 mile – Highway 155, first class blacktop; water to Turnoisis, 7.3 miles; Turnoisis to Patay, 4.3 miles – civilians report Boche pulled out of Patay 2000 – report three vehicles, two German and one American, passed through Gaubert this morning en route to Chatres; old man, speaking English, accused of being "Gestapo."
Regimental liaison officers were making more distant reconnaissance to the north and the east in order to contact the 137th and the 320th Infantry, and in order to obtain information on the possible routes for the next move.
The relative military inactivity of the moment permitted the assumption of some interest on the part of the Nebraska men toward a burning issue current in their home state – the attempt to restore prohibition. They – 312 of them – made known their sentiments by signing a petition – a document destined to bring some interesting reactions and nationwide attention a few months later. It was couched in these terms:
18 August, 1944
To the People of Nebraska:
We, the undersigned citizens of Nebraska, who are now serving in the armed forces in defense of our country, are dismayed to learn that those of us who survive this war may have to return to the kind of Nebraska that our fathers returned to in 1919. We feel that we are being disfranchised. Our minds are fully occupied with two propositions: To kill as many Germans as possible to the end that we get home as quickly as possible; and to ourselves survive until we can get home again. We ask the people of Nebraska to see it that the Nebraska we return to will be the same Nebraska we left when we entered the Armed Forces.
Pauses of much longer than a day were not to be expected in this fast-moving warfare, and the next morning (August 19) brought a warning order to prepare to move sometime around noon. Actually the time turned out to be 1430, and this was a shuttle movement. Trucks first carried the 1st Battalion – assigned the advance guard mission – to the new area south of Janville (a distance of about forty miles), then returned to meet the marching troops of the 2nd Battalion and, finally, those of the 3rd.
Now the Regiment was assigned a tactical mission of its own; it was not anticipated that there would be very much organized resistance yet, but the Regiment now would be going through areas not yet cleared by other troops. Leaving the 3rd Battalion at Santilly as division reserve, the 134th moved out at 0700 on August 21, by motor and marching, to advance – through a light rain – another 20 miles to the east and to occupy the high ground just to the west of Pithiviers. Hardly had this objective been reached when a new order came to move on, seven or eight miles to the southeast, to Bouilly-en-Gatinais.
But the pressure grew in the execution. It was 0100 when the next movement order arrived (August 22). This time the objective was to be an area about 4,000 yards west of Montargis. It was to be a coordinated advance at 0700, with the 134th Combat Team on the right, and the 320th on the left.
Continuing in its role of advanced guard, Colonel Boatsman’s 1st Battalion was on the objective less than two hours after its column of 6 x 6 trucks crossed the IP. The 2nd Battalion followed at 0920. First Battalion patrols, probing out toward the city of Montargis, encountered enemy groups at 1000. It was the first active contact with enemy forces since leaving the hedgerow country around Mortain. Patrols maintained their activity until they were able to get into the outskirts of the town, but it appeared that here was an objective which was going to require some effort in the taking. Even in reaching their initial objectives those battalions had captured and destroyed three tanks and had picked up three prisoners.
While the 1st and 2nd Battalions were organizing patrols to send into Montargis, Lt. Col. John T. Hoyne, division intelligence officer (G-2) determined to make an effort to obtain capitulation without further fighting. Toward this end he led a small, unarmed party into the city under a white flag. Marching down the main street, tense in the feeling that Nazi eyes were watching their every move, they advanced toward the center of the city. Formal and cool toward the enthusiastic welcome of the French populace, but warm within from the bright sun, the long march, and the nervous tension, they moved on, head and eyes straight to the front. Tension almost reached the breaking point when they encountered a German soldier riding a bicycle. Cooperative Frenchmen quickly manhandled the Nazi and turned his weapon over to the Americans, but Colonel Hoyne, anxious lest the incident bring down fire from hidden Germans, quickly restored the weapon to the cyclist while the crowd watched with some bewilderment. The G-2 had intended to present an ultimatum to the German commander to surrender or receive the full force of an artillery barrage. But it appeared that the German commander already had decided to leave that hopeless situation. He was no where to be found. Numbers of German soldiers remained in the town, all right, but they were a disorganized lot, and the 1st and 2nd Battalions had the situation under control. In fact, as the G-2 left the town he met Captain Glen Saddler who already was setting up the 1st Battalion C.P. Later that afternoon a 2nd Battalion patrol made its way completely through the city to reach the railway at the eastern edge.
Operations at Montargis netted some 265 prisoners, including 5 officers. Actually there seemed to have been only one organized defensive unit in town - the 1st Battalion of the 738th Infantry Regiment. A general officer and lieutenant colonel had abandoned the city the night before, and left the defenses in the hands of a major of the 2nd Battalion of that German infantry regiment. This major had been assigned the task of organizing another battalion out of the mixture of troops from other units who happened to be there, but the attack of the 134th had come before he was able to accomplish that organization. There were Poles and Austrians as well as Germans in the enemy unit and the state of disintegration of the German forces could be seen in how the various units happened to be in Montargis at the time. One unit had been passing through en route from Avignon to Paris; another group had been withdrawing from the vicinity of LeMans and Orleans; some men had been separated from their units and had been merely withdrawing in the general direction of Germany; one man had just been dismissed from a hospital in town and had not been able to rejoin his unit.
One of those incidents of the kind which the world tended to associate more and more with Nazism came to light in Montargis as the result of some investigations of Master Sergeant Edward E. Bloch of New York, military intelligence interpreter with the Regiment. According to the reports of eyewitnesses, a French priest, named Fouche, had gone to see a German officer in order to ask permission to evacuate some civilians to his sacristy several hours before the arrival of American troops in Montargis. The officer’s reaction had been to curse the cure and throw fruit at him; then, as the priest had turned to go away, either the officer or one of the men in the vicinity, had shot him in the back and killed him.
While these events around Montargis had been commanding the attention of the Regiment, its 3rd Battalion had remained in division reserve. The XII Corps was on the southern, or right flank of the Third Army, the 35th Division was on the corps right flank, and now the 3rd Battalion, as division reserve, was assigned the mission of guarding the right flank along the Loire River. At this point the protection of the Third Army’s exposed flank was "in the hands of the Ninth Air Force and the 3rd Battalion." Such disregard for the flank was made possible by the very momentum of the corp’s forward drive in disrupting the German forces, and by close liaison with the attached fighter-bomber group of the XIX Tactical Air Command - air observers kept a close watch on that flank, and their bombs and machine guns would discourage any attempt of the enemy to collect a serious force there. The 3rd Battalion’s role in the flank protection consisted of maintaining a series of "road blocks" or outposts along the highway which paralleled the Loire River northwest of Gien.
While the men of Company L and tank destroyers went south to man the road blocks, the remainder of the 3rd Battalion was formed into a task force (Wood) to prepare an assault on Bellegarde were it had been reported that there were some 2,000 of the enemy. Company I was to ride tanks, and Company K to follow on trucks. However, it was discovered that any enemy groups which might have been in Bellegarde had withdrawn before the battalion launched any attack, and that unit was able to move without difficulty to successive locations near Montigny, at Lorris, and Ouzzey.
The 3rd Battalion’s Company L also contacted enemy groups on August 22 for the first time since the beginning of this "new war." It happened that Captain Heffelfinger, battalion executive officer, had gone down to inspect the outpost positions of Company L. He and the company commander, Lieutenant Greenlief, walking along the road toward Gien in a countryside which appeared to be harmless enough, ventured beyond the last roadblock. Suddenly two Germans jumped up from the side of the road, mounted bicycles, and started to flee. A quick exchange of fire - in which the battalion executive officer’s pistol proved to be completely worthless in the emergency - brought an end to the flight of the two Germans, but it also brought more firing as additional riflemen began to appear on each side. Shortly the squad which had come to the assistance of the two officers was able to drive away the remaining Germans and to occupy the former enemy positions.
Major Warren C. Wood, who had gone to the 3rd Battalion (he previously had been 1st
Battalion executive officer) to take command four or five days earlier, arrived on the scene of this latest skirmish a few minutes latter. He carried a pair of major’s leaves for Heffelfinger and a pair of captain’s bars for Greenlief. On receiving this indication of a promotion, Greenlief’s response was, "And just think, if that Kraut had beaten me to the draw, I would have ended my career a lieutenant!" (Other officers in the Regiment were receiving notice of promotion about this same time: Captain Roecker to Major; First Lieutenants Keltner, Saddler, Krebsbach, Pescosolido, and Ruby to Captain; Second Lieutenants Campbell, Casner, Erickson, Hum, Kennedy, Kjems, Mann, and Wardwell to First Lieutenant.
Operations terminated successfully at Montargis, elements of the Regiment - including the 3rd Battalion, now released from its mission in division reserve - assembled east of the city on August 24, and prepared to resume the advance on the morrow. The new objective was Joigny and the high ground to the east. It was a distance of about 35 miles from Montargis.
When the 1st Battalion - continuing as advance guard - crossed the I.P. at Amilly at 0700, there was welcome reassurance in the report of the 1st Battalion patrol which had found Courtenay (on the main highway north of the route to Joigny) free of the enemy, and the report of another patrol which had found the route clear as far as Chateaurenard. This indicated that there should be nothing to slow the advance at least for a third of the way. Beyond that point, however, there could be no such assurance. French reports mentioned a German battalion in Joigny.
But any question about the defenses of Joigny were settled little more than two hours later. By 0915 the 1st Battalion was on its objective east of that town; but it appeared that this was going to be about as far as the column could go without encountering the enemy. Patrols reported enemy groups to the south and east of Joigny.
Indeed, even the progress thus far, rapid and easy as it seemed, was not without its cost. The high spirits and the news of the great advances, the news bulletins and headlines back home, all these sometimes tended to blind those who read them to the shadow of sorrow which still reserved the right to creep in. Only the day before, the war had ended for Sergeant Marshall R. Carpenter of Company B. And now on the way to his wife in Dothan, Alabama, would be that War Department message - the telegram of which loved ones lived the war days and nights in dread. Now, while news broadcasts and newspapers told of the liberation of French towns and "light casualties," while men in local barbershops traded glowing accounts of their sons in the war, while neighbors in the local groceries greeted each other in excited comments on the way the war was going, in the midst of all this hope, hope and a world had come to an end for his wife, Madge. Sergeant Carpenter had been a member of one of those patrols whose necessity remains constant for security and reconnaissance in any fast-moving situation. The sergeant had died in a burst of machine gun fire; but his unit had escaped threats to its own safety or to the renewal of its advance that next day.
Regimental Headquarters moved into Joigny at 1000 and set up the C.P. A town of about 7,000 population, Joigny was an attractive town which had escaped serious damage, though there were at least two large unexploded bombs there.
Last elements of the combat team did not close in until 1230, but when the 3rd Battalion arrived - following the 2nd - it had a truck half filled with German prisoners. The battalion intelligence section - that is, the S-2, the sergeant, a scout, and the jeep driver - had rounded up seven of the prisoners during a pause in its contact mission with the motor column.
But this was only the beginning. Even as the last elements of the Regiment were moving into the Joigny area, reports came from an artillery air observer that a large column of German troops were moving northeast from Villemer - a village about eight miles southeast of Joigny. Added to reports of the French and of the Regiment’s own patrols, there was no question but that the enemy was in the area in rather large numbers. The question was, would he fight?
Now the French brought a report that there were a hundred or more Nazis near Villemer who were willing to surrender; but they would surrender only to Americans. Here was a task cut out for the regimental intelligence officer, Major Dale M. Godwin. With a reinforced platoon from the 3rd Battalion’s Company I and Sergeant Bloch, the interpreter, the S-2 moved out in quest of prisoners. After a couple of changes in direction, the column approached the town where the enemy was reported to be. Stopping the trucks above the military crest of a small hill, where they would be safe from direct fire, the major and interpreter dismounted, took a white flag, and walked down the dusty road toward the enemy position. On arrival, they found a typical "Hollywood" Nazi in command. Asked to surrender, he replied that he would like four hours to think it over. Major Godwin told him to come out within 30 minutes, or all the artillery at his disposal (which was very little) would be brought down. Officers with the small task force made every effort they could to get some artillery fire within that time, but had little success. Fortunately, some artillery from somewhere did fall in the general vicinity. After some delay, then, a group of about 50 Germans came over the hill to surrender. Shortly after, another group of 26 came up the road on bicycles. Soon a 2 1/2-ton truck was in regular shuttle service hauling prisoners.
This particular source of prisoners ceased only when, late in the afternoon, the 3rd Battalion was ordered to move on to St. Florentin, 17 miles farther east. But prisoners were coming from other units of the Regiment.
One of the more spectacular of the actions in this multi-ring circus of gathering up Germans was that of the Antitank Company. This action, as all such should be, was the result of active reconnaissance and the exercise of initiative and aggressive leadership. First Lieutenant William P. Sheehy of Nebraska, an anti-tank platoon leader on motor reconnaissance over the roads in the Joigny vicinity, noticed groups of Germans in a field some distance away. Sheehy’s immediate reaction was to open fire, though it might have meant a hostile and dangerous response from numerous enemy. The Germans retired to a woods, however, and when Sheehy led a patrol down to the woods, he returned with 42 prisoners. Anti-tank guns opened fire on a German column on the road, and the lieutenant directed additional fire into the woods. Results were decisive in a space of time hardly to be reckoned in minutes. Destroyed material cluttered the road, there were all kinds of motor vehicles and numbers of horses to be had, and the Anti-tank Company contributed more than 300 prisoners to the regimental cages. By the end of the day, no less than 796 German soldiers had been retired from the opposition by the prisoner of war route.
Only a partial list of the units represented in this group of prisoners indicates something of the extent to which disintegration had overtaken the German forces in the area: 10 companies of the 758th Infantry Regiment (including three 75mm anti-tank guns), one company of the 759th Infantry Regiment, three companies of the 11th Panzer-Grenadier Regiment, two companies from the 1010th Motor Security Regiment (one of these companies, armed with six 20mm anti-aircraft guns, had been in action at Montargis), three companies of the 192nd Security Regiment, the 57th Signal Regiment (Luftwaffe - Air Force), Luftwaffe Home Guard, Luftwaffe Supply Company, 852nd Flak (Anti-aircraft) Regiment, Bombardment Squadron Flight 7, 698th Anti-aircraft Replacement Regiment, 1708 Artillery Regiment.
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