World War II Europe

The Last of the Grey Wolves

208 aa for uboat series033

U-858, under close escort, steams for Delaware after surrendering off Cape May in May 1945.

In the final weeks of the War in Europe, the German Navy sought to repeat the successes of 1942’s Operation Drumbeat by sending U-boats to intercept and sink merchant shipping along the American eastern seaboard. Kapitanleutnant Thilo Bode and the crew of U-858 was assigned a role in this operation. U-858 was a Type IXC/40 submarine that had only one previous war patrol to its credit. Bode’s crew had not sunk or damaged any Allied vessels in that initial patrol, and even getting to the East Coast was a tremendous gamble, given the depth and power of the Allied anti-submarine defenses in the North Atlantic by 1945.

Bode was an intelligent officer, a tall Bavarian who stayed clean shaven while the rest of his crew grew beards. When he left on this last desperate mission, he knew Germany was doomed to defeat. For six weeks, he played cat-and-mouse games with Allied anti-submarine patrols, but failed to attack any vessels.

208 aa for uboat series047

The Pillsbury’s boarding party aboard U-858.

On May 14, 1945, after receiving a radio message from Germany ordering all warships to stand down and surrender, he and his crew surrendered to the destroyer escort, U.S.S. Pillsbury off Cape May, New Jersey. An American boarding party went aboard and took control of the U-boat, raising the Stars & Stripes over her conning tower. Bode and most of the crew were then taken off the U-boat, but a few were kept aboard as prisoners, just to ensure there had been no effort to sabotage the vessel with timed charges.

U-858 became a celebrated prize of war in the United States. She was taken to Fort Miles, Delaware, where Bode officially surrendered his command to the United States Navy in a ceremony that has subsequently been recreated on the event’s anniversary by local reenactors.

After the surrender, Bode offered to take his U-boat and join the U.S. Navy’s fight against Japan in the Pacific. The U.S. Navy refused, and the boat was to never see combat again. In 1947, it was sunk during a live fire torpedo exercise by the USN submarine, Sirago.

 

208 aa for uboat series059

Commander J.P. Norfleet (left) (USN), accepts 27 year old Captain-Lieutenant Bode’s surrender on May 14, 1945.

 

 

Categories: Atlantic War, World War II Europe | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bond

1st Army Front Knocked Out German panzer jaeger Marder II with French Female Refugee Civilians Normandy France 061244  (1 of 1)

French refugees pass a wrecked German panzer jaeger Marder II as they flee the fighting in Normandy in the summer of 1944.

The American experience of World War II is inextricably linked to the experience of the French. From the outset of the war, when the United States provided aircraft and arms to France through the raising and

Free French Moroccan infantry in Siena, Italy on July 3, 1944.

Free French Moroccan infantry in Siena, Italy on July 3, 1944.

equipping of the Free French Army, to the shared moments on battlefields from the Bocage country to the Colmar Pocket, the people of the United States and France built a common history and heritage together. And in that adversity rose a bond that exists in few other places between few other people. These photos show, in microcosm, how that bond was cemented.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

uS army cav trooper with DP French children Hoyen France 091844 (1 of 1)

A U.S. tanker with a group of parentless French children at a Displaced Persons center in Hoyen, France on September 18, 1944.

 

A French Foreign Legion communications team during an amphibious assault exercise in North Africa, spring 1943.

 

45th inf div liberating french town sept 44  4x6

Liberation Day in a French town, care of the 45th Infantry Division. September 1944.

 

79th Inf Div 1st Army CASEVAC French Woman with legs blown off by mine Medics treating her  Fierville France Normandy Campaign 070844 (1 of 1)

American medics from the 79th Infantry Division frantically work to save the life of a French woman who had just stepped on a German anti-tank mine. The blast severed both of her legs. Normandy, July 8, 1944.

 

79th inf div 314th inf regt troops get wine from french civilian women Drusenheim France 010645  (1 of 1)

American Soldiers from the 79th Infantry Division receive wine from French civilians during a lull in the fighting around Drusenheim, France on January 6, 1945.

medevac of french kid in jeep 4x6

American medics gingerly evacuate a badly wounded French boy on August 2, 1944. He was hiding in a barn when the Germans set fire to it. He escaped with critical burns, but was found by advancing American troops and immediately MEDEVAC’d to the nearest aid station.

 

Categories: Allies, World War II Europe | Leave a comment

The 2nd Free French Armored Division

The 2nd Free French Armored Division comes ashore at Utah Beach.

The 2nd Free French Armored Division comes ashore at Utah Beach.

Perhaps no French unit achieved the level of fame during World War II that the 2nd Free French Armored Division did. Formed from about 15,000 men from different Free French units that had been fighting in North Africa since 1940, the 2nd included some 3,600 Colonial troops, primarily Moroccans and Algerians, along with a contingent of Spanish Republican volunteers. The rest of the division was drawn from French troops and citizens who had escaped France proper during the German invasion, or who had been out of the nation when the 3rd Republic sued for peace in June 1940.

Organized and equipped like a U.S. Army armored division, the 2nd included three tank regiments, a tank destroyer regiment and three mechanized infantry regiments, along with engineers, artillery, truck and logistical support units. The division employed M4 Sherman tanks, American halftracks, M8 75mm motor gun carriages and other American vehicles. The Soldiers were equipped with standard U.S. Army gear, including M1 rifles, M1919 light machine guns, etc.

The division rejoined the fight in July 1944 when it landed at Utah Beach. The 2nd was thrown straight into the fray and ended up in the middle of the Falaise Pocket battle, forming the crucial hinge between Canadian and American units. During the fighting that August, the French tankers and armored infantry all but destroyed the remnants of the German 9th Panzer Division, knocking out over a hundred armored vehicles and taking almost nine thousand prisoners. But by the end of the battle, the 2nd had paid a steep price–about a thousand killed, wounded and missing.

Another shot of the division's M4 Shermans coming ashore  at Utah.

Another shot of the division’s M4 Shermans coming ashore at Utah.

At the end of the month, General Philippe LeClerc, the divisional commander, was ordered to drive on Paris with the U.S. 4th Infantry DIvision. What followed was the unit’s most lasting moment. Fighting side by side with American troops, the Free French could sense their hour of redemption was at hand. They fought like banshees, pushing toward their capital with impassioned fury, taking heavy losses at times. Some five hundred more men from the 2nd were killed and wounded, but the division forced its way into Paris and accepted the German surrender. The moment triggered a national catharsis, with French citizens celebrating in the streets and showering the Allied troops with tokens of their appreciation. France’s national honor had been restored, but much fighting lay ahead.

The 2nd pushed on East, destroying the 112th Panzer Brigade the following month in a chaotic battle at Dompaire. They liberated parts of the Vosges Mountains and wrested Strasbourg from German control at the end of November 1944 in daring actions that later led the division to be awarded an American Presidential Unit Citation. During this phase of its combat career, the 2nd fell under the U.S. Army’s  XV Corps.

Paris, August 26, 1944. The 2nd Free French Armored DIvision's most famous hour.

Paris, August 26, 1944. The 2nd Free French Armored DIvision’s most famous hour.

An M10 Wolverine tank destroyer from the Régiment Blindé de Fusiliers Marins, 2nd Free French Armored Division, outside Halloville, France on November 13, 1944.

After Strasbourg, the 2nd was shifted west to clear out German pocket of resistance along the coast, but it was transferred back to the main front in April 1945 in time to strike deep into the heart of the 3rd Reich. Soldiers of the 2nd were among the first Allied troops to reach Hitler’s Eagles Nest, and ended the war in Bavaria.

From July 1944 through May 1945, the division suffered about six thousand casualties out of approximately 15,000 men. It was deactivated in 1946 after serving France and the cause of Freedom with great and courageous distinction.

 

Categories: Allies, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photo of the Day: The 1st French Army in Action

1st French Army Belfort France  Bren Gun and Sten Gun teams 112144   (1 of 1)

French troops and Maquis fighters, armed with British weapons including a Sten gun and a Bren light machine gun, cover a major intersection in Belfort, France during the battle to liberate the city on November 21, 1944.

 

Categories: Allies, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vive La France Week Starts Monday

101st Airborne Div Paratrooper with french children normandy dday 060844  (1 of 1)

An American paratrooper in Normandy kneels down to chat with two French children. June 8, 1944.

To all my readers and friends in France:

The recent horrific attacks in Paris underscore the nature of the threat we in the West face today. Al Qaida has not been defeated. The forces of Terror continue to deliver barbaric and sanguine blows across the globe–from the streets of Europe to the Syrian desert, to the mountains in Afghanistan. Now, more than ever, the allies of Freedom need to stand together as one.

From the earliest days of the American Revolution, France has been a loyal and trusted ally of the United States. Two hundred years of friendship and mutual dependence on our security have forged a unique bond. We are Brothers and Sisters–a family. Sure there are fractious moments, sure there are disagreements as every family will have, but in the end, our nations have always been there for each other.

1st Army NCO hands out candy to french kids during 4th of July in La Mine France 070444  (1 of 1)

The bond between the United States and France has never been just about policy or diplomacy. It is a connection between two peoples, bound together by a common heritage that includes the pursuit of liberty and human rights.

I was in Texas when the march in Paris took place. I wish I could have been there, walking in solidarity with the millions who believed free expression was worth the risk of another mass casualty event.

 

As I watched leaders from around the world, arm and arm, leading the way through the Paris streets, I felt a profound sense of shame that my own country failed France so thoroughly. Our President should have been there as a symbol of our commitment to France. Nothing can compensate for that error, but do know that Americans stand with you, and we will always stand with you in your most desperate hours. Over the last two hundred years, we have shed too much blood for each other’s freedom to do anything else.

To honor our Alliance, next week’s stories and photographs will be dedicated to moments in our Alliance.

 

Vive La France,

 

John R. Bruning

French Motorcycle Troops Enter Tunis to Cheering Crowds (1 of 1)

French troops enter Tunis, Spring 1943.

 

Categories: World War II Europe, World War II in Europe | 1 Comment

Photo of the Day

German Series WWII Barbarossa East Front  Russian T34 Wreck East of Njemen River Lithuania 062541 (1 of 1) During the Initial weeks of Operation Barbarossa, the German Army, and its Allies, discovered the Red Army’s tank battalions included some truly formidable armored fighting vehicles. The heavy KV-1 and KV-2 tanks proved to extremely difficult to knock out with available 37mm and 50mm anti-armor weapons, and in one case a crippled KV-1 and its crew held up a German advance for several days until finally destroyed in a scene similar to the end sequences of the movie “Fury.”

The Russian T-34 proved to be one of the best tanks of the Second World War and saw service in the Korean War, and later on even in Afghanistan during the 79-89 war. When the Germans first encountered the T-34 on the Eastern Front in the summer of 1941, it came as a profound shock. Maneuverable, well-armed with a 76mm gun, and designed with thick, sloping armor, it was virtually impregnable to German anti-armor weapons smaller than the legendary 88mm.

This T-34 was one of the first thrown into battle against the German Army. On the opening day of Barbarossa,elements of Army Group North advanced east of the Njemen River in Lithuania and ran headlong into a T-34 unit. In a fierce action that saw the Germans deploy 88s and 105mm howitzers to put direct fire on the T-34’s, some 70 Russian vehicles were knocked out. This T-34, photographed a few days later on June 25, 1941, was one of them.

The T-34 would go on to play a pivotal role in the Allied victory on the Eastern Front, and variants are still in service throughout the world today.

Categories: World War II Europe, World War II in Europe | Leave a comment

70 Years Ago Today

 John Buford’s Ghost:

Day One in the Ardennes

Photo 5M german ss patrol malmedy nazi going through barbed wireIn mid-December 1944, Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. O’Brian Jr. had a hunch. As commander of the 38th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, he’d been tasked with defending the ancient city of Monschau, which served as an important part of the local road network. One north-south road passed through town, intersecting with an eastward running route that could take the traveler to Rohren (still held by the Germans) or southeast to Hofen and the 3rd Battalion, 395th Infantry.

O’Brian held an important part of the line, and his hunch led him to believe that the Germans might counter-attack him.  As a result, in the final days before Watch on the Rhine began, he kept his troopers busy digging trenches, clearing fields of fire, laying mines and trip flares. He brought in eighty truck loads of barbed wire and made sure that all of his platoons and troops were wired in tight. For additional support, he placed a platoon of tank destroyers to overwatch the main roads leading into town. His M5 Stuart light tank company covered the town itself and the route leading east, while his troopers dug in on the hills and slopes east of town, scraping their fighting positions out of hip-deep snow and frozen ground in places. The work was hard and rugged, but O’Brian’s men would be prepared. On the night of December 15, 1944, his troopers hunkered down in their holes, waiting to see if the squadron commander’s hunch would play out.

The venerable M5 Stuart light tank served throughout the campaign in Western Europe despite being undergunned and vulnerable to German anti-tank fire. This one belonged the 3rd Armored Division, and the crew is watching a German air attack on December 18, 1944, two days into the Battle of the Bulge.

The venerable M5 Stuart light tank served throughout the campaign in Western Europe despite being undergunned and vulnerable to German anti-tank fire. This one belonged the 3rd Armored Division, and the crew is watching a German air attack on December 18, 1944, two days into the Battle of the Bulge.

Across No-Man’s Land, the men of Sepp Dietrich’s Sixth SS Army made their final preparations for Operation Watch on the Rhine.

Photo 5C Bulge374

Sepp Dietrich.

Sepp Dietrich was a street fighter. An NCO during World War I, he returned home and embraced the chaos of post-war Germany. He became one of the earliest Nazi adherents, and one of Hitler’s oldest confederates. As a combat leader, he was despised and derided by the blue-blooded Prussian elite that formed the nexus of the Werhmacht’s officer corps. They thought he owed his position entirely to his relationship with Hitler, and that anyone with his luddite level of intelligence was best left in the NCO corps, not commanding entire SS armies. Perhaps so, but the fact was Dietrich commanded almost reverence among his men. Time and again, he inspired them with his front-line example as well as his refusal to live better than they did. He shared their hardships and privations, and the Waffen-SS soldiers loved him for it.

But by 1944, Dietrich’s heart wasn’t in it anymore. After Normandy, he knew the war was lost, and Hitler’s insistence to continue it only got more of his men killed. After learning of Operation Watch on the Rhine that fall, he approached the Ardennes counter-offensive with a very pessimistic view of how things would go.

He was not disappointed.

The Sixth SS Army was supposed to attack after a heavy initial bombardment along a front that ranged from about ten miles north of Monschau south to the Losheim Gap. The terrain here was low and swampy—impossible tank country. Behind and to the south of Monschau stretched the high ground of the Elsenborn Ridge. That ridge was the key to the Sixth SS’s initial attack. Take it, and the roads to the south the panzers needed to get to the Meuse would be opened up. The Sixth SS Army had been assigned five main roads that would hopefully carry the panzers west to the Meuse River. Taking Elsenborn Ridge would open up three of those five routes to the river.Bulge534 14th CavGrp Camp

Dietrich assigned his LXVII Corps to launch the initial attack around Monschau. This would be the hinge of the entire Sixth SS Army’s assault, and was designed to protect the right flank of Dietrich’s main effort.

Originally, it was supposed to be carried out by the 272nd and 326th Volksgrenadier Divisions, supported by a battalion of behemoth Jagdtiger tank destroyers. Fate threw the first curveball of the game, though, when the Jagdtigers failed to arrive before December 16th. They’d been loaded aboard trains and sent forward. On the way, Allied fighter bombers shot up the tracks. The Jagdtigers could not get forward in time to support the initial blows. The volksgrenadiers would make their attack unsupported.

The LXVII Corps faced another problem on the morning of the 16th. The Americans had been driving forward with the 2nd, 9th, 78th and part of the 99th Infantry Division right on the north side of the Ardennes, intending to grab the Roer River dams before Christmas. Three days before the offensive’s scheduled start,  the 272nd Volksgrenadier divisions had been sucked into a furious house-to-house urban battle in Kesternich. Part of the 326th had to actually go and reinforce it, which bled away much of the corps’ initial strength in its own assault.

Bulge048 60mortMonschauJan23

An American 60mm mortar team in Monschau.

None of this mattered to the men in the frozen foxholes east of Monschau when the first German shells began to fall at 0530. All up and down the ninety miles Ardennes front line, over a thousand German guns roared to life. Everything from mortars to 14 inch naval guns rained high explosive death down on the American positions. Within minutes, the shells severed most of the communication lines that ran between the front line units and their headquarters, or the artillery units. )

Twenty minutes later, at Monschau, Sepp Dietrich’s Volksgrenadiers padded across the snow-covered forested hills and slammed into O’Brian’s defenses.  The American cav troopers were waiting, virtually unscathed by the opening bombardment thanks to their defensive preparations. In fact, O’Brian had ordered wire parties out to restore communications with their assigned field artillery battalions in the rear before the barrage had even ended.

28th cav recon sqn bulge jan 23 45 wiltz lux904

Lightly armed and equipped, the cav units in the Ardennes faced overwhelming odds in the first days of the Battle of the Bulge. These troopers belonged to the 28th Cav and are seen in Wiltz, Luxemburg later on during the battle.

They had not yet finished repairing the lines when the first Volksgrenadiers from the 751st Regiment slipped into view. If the 38th Cav folded, V Corps headquarters would be vulnerable to an attack from the rear and flank. It was a seminal moment for the American cavalry, and like General John Buford’s troopers on Gettyburg’s Seminary Ridge two generations before, they more than rose to the challenge.

The first wave of Germans reached the outskirts of Monschau and ran right into the waiting M5 Stuarts from F Company. The tankers loaded their guns with 37mm canister shells, and when they opened fire, the massed effect of these gigantic shotgun-like blasts tore apart an entire Volksgrenadier company. The survivors recoiled as their comrades, so vibrant a moment before, lay in gruesome horror around them. They left behind at least fifty, probably more like seventy-five dead and dying men.

The 38th Cav suffered seven casualties. Sepp Dietrich’s far north assault had failed completely.  

Photo 5G bulge trench scene438

A typical snow covered entrenchment in the Ardennes that December.

A few miles to the south, the 99th Infantry Division’s 3-395 had weathered a dreadful barrage that saw at least two hundred and fifty shells land in the battalion’s area of operations around Hofen. At ten minutes to six, the 2nd Battalion, 751st Volksgrenadiers, 326th VG Division charged through the morning fog across broken terrain and hit the 3-395 Infantry at five points almost simultaneously. The German main effort slammed into the junction between I and K Companies, which happened to be just east of Hofen. Without communications re-established with the artillery units in the rear, the battle that unfolded here pit a green U.S. infantry battalion against a green German Volksgrenadier Division.

The Volksgrenadiers surged for the American lines and ran straight into point-blank small arms fire. Some of the U.S. BAR men held their fire until the Germans were not even ten feet away from their camouflaged foxholes. The dead heaped around these positions, and some of the stricken grenadiers actually tumbled into the BAR men’s foxholes. Mortars shells fell and machine guns unleashed their fearsome destructiveness, and the grenadiers died in the snow. The attack continued, but each successive rush was stopped by American gunfire.

99th inf div soldier elsenborn ridge bulge830

One of the 99th Infantry Division’s defenders of Elsenborn Ridge.

At 0650, an hour after the attack began, the battalion restored communication with the artillery units I the rear. Within minutes, the forward observers in the trenches called down hell itself on the Germans. Multiple battalions of 105mm howitzers and the massive 155mm Long Tom cannons joined the battle.

The grenadiers attacked with desperate bravery, and in some places they made it through the curtain of artillery to battle the Americans with bayonets and butt stocks. The men of the 3-395 held firm, refusing to be driven from their foxholes even as heaps of German dead piled around them. By 0745, the attack had failed. Almost half the 2nd Battlion, 751st Grenadiers lay dead or dying in the snow. Photo 5O Bulge128 reloadM1deadGer83IDJan15

As the grenadiers withdrew and regrouped, they left behind over a hundred and fifty wounded men. Some lay as close as two hundred feet from 3-395’s foxholes. Throughout the day, they groaned, and cried out in agony, unable to move. In places, the lesser wounded men scrabbled through the snow to give what succor they could to their dying comrades. Here and there, a German medic would brave American fire to rush forward, administer some morphine and first aid. But there weren’t enough brave medics that day, and by nightfall, the moans and pleas grew steadily weaker. By morning, the battlefield was silent; the wounded had frozen to death. 

Excerpted from my book:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Bulge-Photographic-History-American/dp/0760335680/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1418765588

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Photo of the Day:

70th Inf Div 274th Inf Reg Medics under Artillery Fire Behren France 021745  (1 of 1)

Two medics of the 274th Infantry Regiment, 70th Infantry Division take cover during a German artillery bombardment near Behren, France on February 17, 1945. The 70th was one of four divisions trained at Camp Adair, Oregon.

 

Categories: World War II Europe, World War II in Europe | Leave a comment

Photo of the Day: French Armored Division Fights its Way into Belfort 1944

5th French Armored Div 2nd Bn de Choc Commandos M4 Sherman battling into Belfort France 112044 (1 of 1)

French commandos support a 5th French Armored Division M4 Sherman tank during the liberation of Belfort, France on November 20, 1944.

Categories: Allies, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 503rd Parachute Infantry’s Icelandic Refugee, Smokey

British Series WWII British Paratrooper with US Airborne Officer and Dog Mascot DDay Drop 060544 (1 of 1)

En route to England, the men of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry found and rescued this pup, Smokey, seen here in Iceland. The troops brought him to England, and he’s seen here with one of the 503rd’s members as he chats with Lt. John Timothy, the British liaison officer to the 2/503. The 503rd was the first American ground unit to reach England after Pearl Harbor. There is some confusion over 2/503rd’s history these days. The battalion took part in Operation Torch and executed the U.S. Army’s first combat jump. During the African campaign, however, the Army redesignated 2/503rd to the 509th Parachute Infantry. Apparently, the members of the battalion didn’t get that memo until after the war. Meanwhile, a new 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was formed and sent to the Pacific, where it joined the 11th Airborne Division and took part in the New Guinea and Philippines Campaign. That 503rd made the jump on Corregidor in February 1945.

 

Categories: Warrior Dogs of WWII, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.