Travelogue of a Division Quartermaster – Part 2
Col. James H. Caruthers, Q.M.C.
The Quartermaster Review
Part I of Colonel Caruthers’ Travelogue closed with a description of the Channel crossing on D+1. This concluding installment covers the following days of action and the reduction of Fortress Brest.
During the first week the First Army and V Corps quartermaster (who landed on D-day) and the Engineer Special Brigade, were confronted with one of the greatest supply, burial, and evacuation difficulties in modern warfare.
Fighting had now progressed from hedgerow to hedgerow to about eight miles inland, and the Quartermaster Company was constantly moved forward and operated four to five thousand yards behind the front lines at all times. The tremendous influx of men, material, and vehicles coming ashore demanded that the rear be continually pushed forward.
During this first week, division units evacuated their dead direct to the beach cemetery. A graves registration platoon was attached to the Division after about ten days ashore. By this time normal supply procedures were set up by operation of division Class I and III DPs, and units ceased drawing direct from beach dumps. Three gas DPs were operated, one behind each combat team. Transportation was at a premium, as only a small percentage of our vehicles had landed. Artillery, mortars, and machine guns were late coming ashore, and one combat team went into the line on D+1 with no weapons except hand ones. In fact, one town was taken without automatic weapon support.
During the last half of June the Division progressed steadily to the south. Thanks to the proximity of the beach dumps and the tremendous amounts which had been put ashore, no shortage of supplies existed.
On the night of June 20th, while we were bivouacked in La Foret de Cerisy, German artillery shelled our location. Four casualties resulted from shell fragments, but no supplies were damaged. The supply dumps were moved some 200 yards away from the shelled area to forestall a repetition of this occurrence.
July and August 1944
By this time the full force and effect of many non- T/O responsibilities confronted us and demanded solution. These consisted of the following activities:
collection and evacuation of the dead, and handling of personal effects and records; collection, segregation, and evacuation of salvage; laundry; C & E repairs; operation of showers; fiscal procedure.
The foregoing problems and their solutions will be discussed in the order in which they are listed. The service platoon, as provided for on the present T/O, consists of forty-nine men. This number includes key non-coms, and is inadequate to provide sufficient personnel for the proper functioning of all quartermaster operations in actual combat. In my opinion a minimum addition of forty men to the service platoon is essential. As stated previously, I secured an over-strength of twenty-four prior to departure from South Wales-part of the overstrength left behind by the division we replaced in that area. An additional sixteen men were detailed to duty with the Quartermaster Company (upon my request to the Division G-l), from battle exhaustion cases not fit for return to combat duty but otherwise qualified for the duty outlined herein.
Collection and Evacuation of the Dead, and Handling of Personal Effects and Records: GR (graves registration) platoon attached to a division performs no duties so far as collection of bodies is concerned. I requested the V Corps Quartermaster for the detail of a service platoon for this purpose, and to collect salvage at the same time. A short time later I received this platoon, which consisted of one officer, four non-coms, and forty enlisted men. A squad of twelve men, in charge of a corporal, were placed with the service company of each infantry regiment to assist in searching for the dead and evacuating them to the division collecting point, where the GR platoon operated. A team of four men remaining from the attached service platoon remained under control of this office and were used for picking up Allied and German bodies which were reported and which were not in regimental zones. All bodies picked up in the division area were evacuated to the division collecting point. where identity was established and money and personal effects were removed and inventoried by the GR platoon. Personal effects of the deceased which were located in his organization were brought in direct to this office, where they were consolidated with the effects removed at the GR collecting point. All money as turned in to the division finance office; receipts were procured and placed with the personal effects. All effects were collected daily by a Quartermaster officer detailed as division GRO (graves registration officer) who personally turned in the money to the finance office and inventoried each bag of effects, later evacuating all effects to the army depot designated for that purpose. The division GRO also frequented the three cemeteries which were by now being used, to expedite the certification and return to the division AG of copies of the GRS form No.1, which became the official notice of death when signed by the cemetery officer. In the early stages a bottleneck occurred in the preparation of GRS forms No. 1, because of inadequate clerical personnel at the cemetery. Clerks and typewriters from this office were placed at the GR collecting point, where these forms were made out, to relieve the situation. Later the cemetery published a daily list of all burials. It required two clerks at the ODQM (office of the division quartermaster) to receive, inventory, box, and keep records on personal effects. For obvious reasons these records must be complete in order to verify later inquiries from relatives as to disposition of certain personal effects.
The Division sustained very high casualties during this phase of the campaign, and as many as 180 bodies were processed in one day through the division collecting point.
The GR platoon originally assigned to the Division operated with us approximately two months and, in my opinion, did an outstanding job. A letter of commendation was written to the unit. In addition, the platoon commander and several of his enlisted men were recommended by this office to the Division Commander for Bronze Stars. These awards were made, with an appropriate ceremony.
Collection, Segregation, and Evacuation of Salvage: Units evacuated their salvage to the division Class I truckhead daily. This amounted to an average of about two tons per day, and some days ran as high as thirty tons. We performed many of the functions of a salvage collecting company. Salvage was separated by different classes, such as Ordnance, Signal, CWS, and Quartermaster. “Serviceable” was segregated from “unserviceable.” Each supply officer came by our bivouac area each day and picked up those serviceable items which were fit for repair and reissue. Serviceable Quartermaster items were placed in stock and issued to fill requisitions. Items of soiled clothing; otherwise serviceable, were processed through a mobile laundry and returned to stock for issue. At this stage the amount of salvage turned in to the army dump was tremendous, and the supply of new clothing was becoming critical. For this reason every effort was made to reclaim all possible items.
From the division and army salvage piles 3,000 sets of clothing were assembled, to be used in making direct exchange with infantry soldiers at the showers. This direct exchange eliminated the salvage and replacement problem for infantry regiment S-4s. When the supply of reclaimed clothing fell below the 3,000 sets maintained, requisitions were submitted to the army Class II dump for such shortages. “Sets” consisted of wool shirts, wool trousers, HBT jackets, HBT trousers, wool underwear, cotton underwear, wool socks, and towels.
Laundry: On about D+45, the corps quartermaster secured the services of a mobile laundry platoon. One section of the platoon was allocated to this division. The capacity of this section was approximately 9,000 pieces per day.
Three shower units, each with twenty-four heads, were improvised by the division engineer. A method of heating water for these showers was also improvised. Usually one shower was placed well forward in each infantry area. An initial stock of 500 sets of clothing for direct exchange was placed at each shower. After a hot bath each man was given a complete change of clothing, with the exception of shoes. In my opinion this hot shower and provision for clean clothing, from the skin out, was one of the greatest possible morale-building factors. I saw men come out from under the showers looking like polished apples, with big smiles on their faces. Many had not had a bath or change of clothing for weeks. This service was provided at every opportunity when the tactical situation made it permissible to pull troops out of the line, which was usually on an average of every ten days or two weeks.
Other elements of the division, such as the artillery, ordnance, etc., were given allocations and took their dirty clothes direct to the laundry, receiving about two-hour service.
C & E Repairs: Initially, no facilities for shoe, typewriter, and other repairs were available. Prior to departure from the United Kingdom, two thirty-day schools in typewriter maintenance and repair were conducted under the direction of an enlisted man who had years of experience in civil life. Each unit in the division sent one or more men to these schools. Maximum maintenance and repair of typewriters and other office machines was exercised by each unit. Consequently, very few machines came in for repair, and those brought in were beyond the scope of repair as far as the division was concerned.
The stock of field range parts, prescribed by WD Cir. No.143, 1943, was carried by the division quartermaster. Maximum maintenance and repair by the units and the division Ordnance Company was carried out. Field range parts were critical.
Fiscal Procedure: The Quartermaster Purchasing and Contracting Officer was made the fiscal officer for the Division and given three funds, consisting of money for local emergency purchases, G-2 funds, and official entertainment funds. It was the responsibility of the fiscal officer to see that sufficient funds were on hand at all times to meet request for expenditure. Funds were obtained from the army headquarters upon formal request. Each P & C officer of the Division – (Ordnance, Signal, and Engineer) submitted a monthly report to the Fiscal Office, where a consolidated report was made and forwarded to army headquarters by the sixth of the following month, showing all obligations made against the various funds.
Another subject not previously discussed is that of mine-detecting. The present Quartermaster T/E does not include any mine detectors. Because of the rapidity with which supply dumps and bivouacs followed up combat elements it was necessary that we borrow from other units three mine detectors for clearing areas to be occupied. The Germans had placed hundreds of mines of all kinds along every road and in most fields and orchards. When a reconnaissance was made and an area selected, all entrances and ground to be used was swept with these detectors. Although we experienced many narrow escapes. no personnel was-injured and no equipment was damaged by mines. In the latter part of July the Division had successfully fought its way to the final objective assigned the village of Tanchebrey, southeast of Vire. At this point the British 2nd Army right flank joined with the left flank of the 29th Infantry Division, and upon the joining of these two forces the -Division was pinched out of the line.
Movement of the Division was made by motor on 18 August approximately 220 miles to the west, to the Brittany Peninsula, with the objective of assaulting the city of Brest. An assembly area in the vicinity of Lesneven, approximately twelve miles northeast of Brest, was assigned to us. My supply officer and I preceded the Division to its area by twelve hours, to arrange for supplies.
Upon its arrival the Division closed in the assembly area and prepared for the attack, which started on 25 August, in conjunction with the 8th and 29th Infantry Divisions. Due to the rapidity of the breakthrough and advance made across the Brittany Peninsula, there was no opportunity to set up large preplanned supply depots. We learned the literal meaning of extended supply lines. For the first two weeks the bulk of supplies was transported by truck from Cherbourg, and from the beach dumps at Omaha and Utah Beaches. Class I and III supplies were critical, but available in limited quantities. Gasoline was strictly rationed.
It might be of interest to close this narrative with a resume of the operations in reduction of Brest.
On 6 August 1944, units of the 6th Armored Division contacted German forces east and north of Brest, and in a series of cavalry and armored engagements drove them back to the outskirts of the city. To the west, other patrols pushed scattered enemy forces back toward Le Conquet and St. Renan, and, to the southeast of the city drove the enemy into the Daoulas and Crozon Peninsulas. The enemy was contained thereafter by armored and cavalry forces assisted by patrols of the FFI, augmented subsequently by the arrival of the 8th Infantry Division.
From 20 to 24 August, 2nd and 29th Infantry Divisions closed into the area and took up positions around the city in preparation for an attack.
On 11 August 1944, Maj. Gen. Herman B. Ramcke assumed command of the Brest area (“Fortress Brest”). The forces at his disposal were estimated at 20,000, augmented by an estimated 3,500 naval antiaircraft and artillery personnel and 9,000 naval, marine, Organization Todt, and semi-military personnel.
The defense of Brest proper was divided into eastern and western sectors, with the Penfeld River as the boundary. Second Parachute Division was disposed in a perimeter defense about the city center. The main line of resistance was based on a system of strong points, consisting of antiaircraft positions, old forts, and defensive positions of earthworks. Forward of the main line of resistance the enemy maintained small outposts and patrolled frequently to his front.
On 25 August our 2nd Infantry Division attacked and drove in the enemy outposts. The enemy defended his main line of resistance vigorously; employing large volumes of fire from strong points in the vicinity of the village of Bourg Neuf and Kermao. A former flak position, known as Battery “Domaine,” commanded all approaches from the west, north, and east, and with exceptionally good fields of fire was a key point in the defense. On 28 August the village of Kermao, to the west of Battery Domaine, was captured, weakening the enemy position, and during the night he evacuated Battery Domaine, leaving behind a demolition detail which blew up the ammunition bunkers. That night the enemy launched a strong counterattack in the vicinity of Kermao, which was repulsed. Meanwhile Task Force B on Daoulas Peninsula had launched its attack. The enemy resisted strongly on Hill 154, but was driven back to his main line of resistance. This was penetrated on 27 August, and strong points at Lesquivit, Kerreraul, and Hill 63 were reduced. From this point on, enemy resistance weakened, and finally collapsed entirely. On 30 August the Daoulas Peninsula was cleared of enemy resistance. A total of 3,039 PWs were taken during this operation.
The enemy continued to resist stubbornly in and around the village of Bourg Neuf and Fourneuf, but on 1 September he was driven from his positions. Continuation of the attack on Hill 105 forced the enemy from this terrain and he withdrew to a previously prepared position on Hill 90, to the west, long reported to be his second main line of resistance. An attack on his northern flank on 8 September succeeded in loosening his tenacious grasp on the strong position around Bourg Neuf, and he was driven south toward the Guipavas-Brest highway. Continuation of this attack forced the enemy to evacuate his Hill 90 positions and his second defensive position had fallen. Retreating slowly, he withdrew into the fringes of the city proper and began a house-to-house defense. The battle for the city itself had commenced.
During the initial stages of the operation and down to the withdrawal into the city proper, the enemy employed a wide variety of mines and booby-traps. The familiar Teller-mine and S-mine were found, but in addition there were many contrivances based on naval explosive charges and French artillery shells. Antipersonnel charges sometimes reached fantastic size; some of those placed in houses ran as high as 200 pounds. Antisubmarine mines and torpedo heads were emplaced as demolition charges. On two occasions road junctions were found to be mined with charges of approximately one ton of explosives. Old defensive positions were surrounded by fields of thickly sown S-mines, the trip-wires of which were by now completely hidden in the grass. Seventy-five millimeter shells of French manufacture were fitted with pull igniters and emplaced as mines.
Enemy resistance throughout the battle for the city was extremely stubborn. Each building became a center of resistance, and heavy volumes of machine-gun and rifle fire poured from doorways and windows. Bombs and shells had reduced many buildings to rubble, and in this machine-guns found excellent positions from which to cover adjacent streets. The enemy frequently continued to resist from the upper stories of buildings after the ground floors had been lost. It was necessary to burn him out of many buildings. In open areas, entrenchments and bunkers had been constructed, commanding fields of fire along streets in all directions. In the vicinity of the railroad station there were a number of these bunkers, and the enemy continued to hold out in these well after he had been forced behind the city wall to the north. The ancient city wall of Brest, with its protecting moat, was a major obstacle to an assault, and the enemy had sealed the entrances with antitank barricades, antitank guns, and machine-guns.
The final stage of the operation commenced on 16 September, when units of the 29th Infantry Division gained entry into the walled city on the west bank of the Penfeld River. Enemy resistance in the city was completely disorganized, and the Germans surrendered in large groups. Resistance in the vicinity of Fort Du Portzic and the submarine pens was obstinate, however, and these points held out throughout the day.
Late on 17 September our infantry entered the wall at the northwest entrance on the Penfeld River and advanced rapidly to the southeast, and another infantry unit forced an entry at the northeast entrance. The following morning the regiment advanced to the south through the city, against scattered resistance. When all resistance had been overcome as far south as the Rue Emile, representatives of the commander of the eastern sector, Colonel Pietzonka, approached our forces to arrange for a surrender. At 1500, in Place President Wilson, Colonel Pietzonka, commanding officer of the 7th Parachute Regiment, surrendered the garrison.
The following day enemy resistance on the Crozon Peninsula collapsed and the commander of Fortress Brest (General Ramcke) who, with the fall of the city, had transferred his headquarters across the bay, surrendered to the 8th Infantry Division. All resistance on the Crozon Peninsula had ceased, and the German defense in the Brest area was ended. A small pocket of resistance remained at Audiene on the Donarneuez Peninsula to the south, but this was rapidly eliminated by a task force on 20 September.
During the twenty-eight-day seige of Brest close air support consisted of fighter-bombers operating on an ”air-alert” status, the Division utilizing these aircraft for ninety-seven missions, involving 705 aircraft. The fighter-bombers dropped 360 tons of bombs and strafed enemy positions on ninety-four of the ninety-seven missions.
The Division expended a total of 1,758,000 rounds of small arms and 218,000 rounds of larger caliber ammunition. Total division advance was about eight miles, or an average of one mile every three days, the last two and a half miles being through a built-up metropolitan area.
General Ramcke made every effort to carry out his avowed intention of defending Brest to the bitter end. As the ranks of the battle-trained 2nd Parachute Division thinned out, replacements were obtained from every available source. Naval and administrative personnel were thrown into the line as infantrymen. Those who showed any tendency to shirk their duty were closely supervised by Paratroop officers and NCOs, who did not hesitate to shoot disaffected personnel.
During the entire Brest operation 37,382 prisoners were taken by VIII Corps. Of these, almost 11,000 were taken by this division.