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tv   World War II Combat Chaplains  CSPAN  August 14, 2014 12:03pm-12:27pm EDT

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bombarded, outclassed, outfought, kind of building to building, bar to bar, sewer to sew sewer. there's orders from hitler to fight to the "last man and last cartridge," quote-unquote very hitler rhetoric. he nonetheless will surrender with 20,000 to 30,000 german troops by the end of june 1944. sherborg is taken. wonderful, right? i have bad news, really. german engineers had demolished the harbor. they made it unusable in the near term at sherborg. they filled in the docks. destroyed the cranes. they put concrete block ships in there. they had just wrecked every quay you could possible imagine, used demolitions like you wouldn't believe. this is a major job for u.s. army engineers to go to sherborg
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and recover the place and rebuild it. it takes the better part of the summer. sherborg won't be running that much for the allies until about september 1944. by then it's far away from the front lines that are, you know, in eastern france. it's a bit anti-climatic. supplies coming from then. well of course the most famous answer to that question is mulberry harbor. that's the code name for artificial harbors at lies created through remarkable ingenious manufacturing. basically create your own artificial harbors off the landing beaches.7i one at gold beach, and one at omaha beach. you basically sink tetrahera and also block ships to create those breakwaters, and then you have kind of ramps and platforms and you unload stuff that way. now those are in place within about a week or so of the invasion. but a terrible storm hits normandy from june 18th to 20th
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of 1944. heavily damages the british mulberry harbor and destroys the northern mulberry harbor for good. the mulberries are overrated in terms of allied supply in world war ii in europe. they will account for 10%. most of your supplies are being landed on the beaches, especially omaha beach. landed by oversized lsts which the crews nicknamed long slow target. it often is. not a pretty ship but can move a lot of vehicles. open it up at low tide. unload and wait for the tide to come in and come back out. not how they planned but that's
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how the majority of supplies will be landed in this campaign in northern europe for quite some time. you have, of course, a unified allied sector as the map shows you and the british are going to get canne on july 7th by destroying by air. montgomery will try to pivot from there and advance southeastward in an offensive called operation goodwood which is disastrous. 40,000 men and several hundred tanks in the space of almost two days and goes almost nowhere. the american front is more or less stalemated inland from omaha beach like you see there and not that far from barneyville. for instance, bradley decides to attack on the extreme western flank, as you see it there in the cotentin to push for a town. now what he wants to do is unhinge that whole western part of the german line that red line that you see there, unhinge that and then that will compromise the entire position, german position in normandy. well, what ends up happening
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instead is a slow and bloody slog through very marshy ground which is bad for tanks and vehicles so you can't provide much fire support there. bradley gains seven miles of ground in two weeks and suffers 40,000 american casualties. 40,000 in a two-week period for seven miles of more or less worthless ground. mush. that's what normandy is devolving to. the weather is not good. normandy has a very wet climate especially in the summer. rainy and moist. that makes it tough to use your air power all that accurately. of course it's hedge row to hedge row fighting anyway. you're having problems with supply on both sides. it's turning into a kind of a campaign of attrition which is not what really either side wants in a way. so bradley's concept on the heels of this failure is to redouble his efforts to take saint lux. which you see right in the middle of our map. saint lux of course is not a new
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objective for the americans. they hoped the have it a lot sooner than this. the reason it's important and you'll notice this by just a glance of the map, practically every road in normandy leads to the crossroads town. it used to be called briovere. it was a market town dating back to ancient times. not a big place but a communication and transportation and market center for norman culture. it had been invaded many times because it was valuable for these reasons. it had been invaded by romans, by kings, by napoleonic armies, you name it. obviously the germans in 1940. all of those invaders in the old days had wanted what invaders throughout history generally wanted -- plunder, stuff, domination, power, women, whatever, you know?
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the americans come in 1944, they don't want any of those things. they want to liberate the town. as they see it. what's supremely ironic and tragic about this whole thing, the most benevolent leaders of saint lux do more damage than anybody combined. the force bombed it on d-day. why? it's a crossroads and it would be the natural place the germans would go to counterattack omaha beach. this creates ruins and kill many french civilians who are certainly caught in the middle of this and of course as the push for the town matures into a major ground battle will lead to even more destruction. ultimately leading one u.s. army soldier to say after the battle, with sort of awe and sorrow in his voice we liberated the hell out of this place. it will be the focus point for bradley's army throughout much of july 1944.
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he'll push forward with three u.s. army divisions, the 35th which is missouri, kansas, nebraska national guard new combat in july, 1944. 2nd infantry division which is the indian head division which leads the day after omaha beach. they're looking up at the camera with a long column. that takes place at wm 65 right in the heart of omaha beach and on june 7th, 1944. 2nd division was regular army division. and it took pride in having the largest actual patch in the entire u.s. army. the big indian head patch, and it still exists. and then the other division is the 29th, the blue grade division that carried out the famous assault on omaha beach on d-day. a month later if you were in a rifle company in the 29th division and you had been there on d-day, you were a real fugitive from the law of averages.
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the casualties that units took on d-day were extensive and the fighting ever since had been extremely costly. 29th division was replenished with replacements and it will have lead role in the push for saint lux. this gives you a closer look at it. you can see where the americans primarily are coming from. you can see the various units in play and the 29th having lead role. now this is really some of the thickest of the bokaj country. the 29th division fights in this area from july 10th through july 18th, 1944. it's about a three to four mile area. one historian estimated it would take you, oh, probably about an hour, hour and a half, maybe two hours to walk it in regular peace time life. it took eight days to take it for the 29th division.
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and get into saint lux itself. hedge row to hedge row, fighting against german army paratroopers and survivors from the german army's 352nd infantry division, parts of which had been at omaha beach on dey day. this is another battle to extinction. hole to hole, hedge row to hedge row, and in terrible circumstances. sometimes in rain with losses like you wouldn't believe that if you're in a rifle company and started out say with 160 guys on july 10th, you're probably down to about 15 or 20 by july 18th. not everybody else is dead. the majority are wounded or have skulked away or something like that, but nonetheless, you're taking intense casualties, but the germans are even worse off. the americans get saint lux on july 18th and find it is really nothing more than a field of ruins. incredib incredibly tragic. the road is somewhat intact. but the problem is, engineers have to come in with bulldozers because there's so much rubble and move the rubble
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aside. and that makes the destruction even worse from the townspeople's point of view. the symbol of this american effort for saint lu is embodied in a guy named major thomas howie through the attrition of the battle became a batallian commander in the course of the fight for saptint lux. howie in civilian life had been an english teacher and football coach. and he was man of great intellect, a man of great sensitivity. anybody who met him tended to like him, except his division commander, major general charles gerhart, never the most sensitive individual tended to think he was too nice, too soft and too sensitive to be a great combat leader. he was wrong about that. howie turns out to be beloved by his men and one of the people who really leads the push into saint lux and during one of the last drives for saint lux, he is killed by german shell-fire, either mortar or artillery. not really sure.
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his body is carried by other soldiers and is placed under a flag what they think is the remains of the church sean put there basically on display as a kind of a symbol of what american youth have done in saint lux. he's known to this day as the major of saint lux, thomas howie. so with this key objective finally in his hands bradley hopes to kind of pivot out of saint lux and beyond. i mentioned montgomery's goodwood offensive. originally he hoped to coordinate that with a major offensive by bradley pushing southwest out of saint lux and both want to use the air force to carpet bomb the front lines ahead of them. well because of the weather patterns in normandy, the weather was just simply too bad in the american sector to launch
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this offensive, plus the fighting around saint lux had been so cost costly, the americans aren't going to be in a position to push until july 24th, and that's several days after the goodwood offensive. this is coming piecemeal and alloys the germans to react to either one of them. july 24th, 1944, bradley will launch what's called operation cobra. he has coordinated with the 8th air force back in england to basically bomb in front of his lines, to saturate the german lines, primary the panzer lair divisions, going to be bombed heavily by the four engine bombers and relentlessly, to create such a swathe and path of destruction, that the germans will not be able to stop the approaching combined arms advance of the u.s. army. basically three divisions with infantry mounted on tanks. troops of the big red one, the
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1st infantry division will be mounted on tarngz. like a mobile task force under general collins to exploit that hopeful breach in the german lines and then, you know, basically create a mobile campaign in normandy. well doesn't quite work out that way. the coordination by bradley with the air commanders is not good, ridden with miscommunication. the air commanders had told bradley very clearly, though he'll deny this later, that they could not basically bomb horizontally to the american lines. so this is the u.s. line here. the bombers would ideally come over the german lines and drop their bombs. if they do that they will run a gauntlet of anti-aircraft fire all along the german line there in normandy, plus it's going to take them forever. hours and hours and hours to do this. they said no we're going to come over vertically straight over the u.s. lines and drop our loads once we're past the u.s. lines. yeah, right. this is, of course what happens. they come in from that direction. the drops are short.
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and there's loss of life on the u.s. side. the ground commanders had demonstrated great frustration during the run-up to cobra, because they had taken some hard-won ground and they said, from above, they've been told, no, you got to give up that ground and withdraw about 12,000 or 2,000 yards because the air force is going to bomb ahead of you. we don't want them to bomb you. the ground command says great i have to take that again. even with that they were still getting bombed by their own air force with dozens of lives lost on july 24th. so bradley has to decide, should i unleash the bombing again on july 25th knowing the danger this time. he decides to go ahead with it. then okay we'll mark it with orange colored smoke which tells us, okay, don't bomb on this side of the orange colored smoke because that's the u.s. lines. so the crew men are briefed do not do that. none of them want to bomb their own troops.
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what do you think happens on july 25th. here's murphy's law. which way do you think the wind is blowing. towards the u.s. lines. so orange smoke is coming back towards the american lines, there's confusion by at least one or two groups and that's all it takes, they will unload their bombs over the u.s. lines and there will be more friendly fire casualties. ultimately 111 americans killed. many come from the old hickory division. by july 25th, general hobbs hates the u.s. air force. fairly or unfairly that's how he feels. the 30th division is going to be told we're sorry this happened to you but go ahead and attack. if you ever heard of the great war correspondent ernie pyle he wrote a wonderful account of what this was like to be bombed by his own air force. he was right there with the 4th division. so when the u.s. army troops go forward on july 25th, they find
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that the germans are still in a good position to resist, unfortunately. some of those front line positions haven't been hit that hard. that's the bad news. the good news the rear areas have been really nailed, tanks flipped upside down, just destroyed, horse columns destroyed, all this kind of stuff. and so once you get past that hard crust of initial resistance, there is room to maneuver, and collins has to make this decision there's cratering and we don't know what's ahead of us. should i send the task force of infantry riding on tanks, should i send them forward and really go for the kill? he does so by july 26th and 27th and leads to basically what you see on the map, a break-through, through that rectangle, that blue rectangle that's been bombed and on beyond, and now is where the germans are really in trouble. now you see a break-through in normandy in late july 1944. and the kind of mobile campaign the americans had always wanted.
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now doesn't mean that it's safe out there. there are powerful german units moving and retreating, trying to get out to avoid encirclement. >> the 2nd armored division on the even of july 28th and 29th will be in a road block position and run into a very powerful german ammored task force that leads to a confused night bat well significant loss of life on both sides. there's plenty much very furious fighting going on. from a bigger picture poichbt view it's to the american's advantage now. the germans are really in some trouble. on august 1st they activate the famous 3rd army under general george patton. you have two operator u.s. armies in play now. the 1st and the 3st and bradley moves up to be an army group commander of the 12th army in control of all the u.s. ground
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forces, and patton's 3rd army has a reputation for being very armored heavy because he likes mobile and mechanized warfare. this is precisely what they will be doing on the western side of the map. basically slash-and-dash. move quickly. just hit the germans hard, get to the rear areas, encircle them. this is what patton's army excels at. they get to avranche which you can see on the map, eventually whoops, they're going to move into brittany. the german army is going to find itself in a very difficult and very mortal position at this stage. and from a kind of conceptual view point, history isn't about just memorizing facts or dates or even military history isn't about that either. there's a larger analysis or purpose to it all in a sense and what's interesting to me as an american historian is that this u.s. army that you now see in late july, in august 1944 after
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what's generally known as the breakout from normandy, like you see portrayed on the map there reflects the society that has created it and is sustaining it. at that time, the united states was the most automated society in the world. when you think of world war ii you tend to think of the germans and their vehicles and tanks and blitzkrieg and all that. the german army is moving their supplies with horse-drawn wagons. they're running their vehicles on ersatz fuel. they're not even in the class of the united states army in this sense. the u.s. army hardly even knows what a horse is anymore by 1944. every vehicles of every type and description but jeeps and trucks and recovery vehicles and aircraft and all of it is designed for mobile slashing, transportation oriented mechanized maneuver warfare, ground and air so what you have
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is a fast-hitting fast-moving force with excellent close air support. this is the flipside of the air force, you know? the heavy bombers had been asked in operation cobra to do something that was not in their skill set. to bomb a precision target in front of friendly troops. now you're talking about medium bombers that are more accurate, that can fly lower ahead of grown formations to act as eyes and ears and give them close support and this is precisely what happens. if you're a german column of any type, moving on the roads of normandy, you are going to be in trouble, and you've got nice body guards in the sky above you if you're a ground commander at that point. so throughout the early days of august, 1944, the german position gets worse and worse as you see on the map. they get kind of bent around and now they're in danger of encirclement. so if you're the german commanders you say at this point you might say well, it's time to get out of there. hitler being hitler, he's not
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going to think that way. he wants to attack. he's giving orders forbidding retreat and he says let's counterattack. so he scrapes together their best remaining armored division in normandy and attacks on august 7 through 12, 1944. the purpose of this is to get all the way to avranche, about ten miles away, and to basically cut off patton and reverse the whole tide. now certainly it takes the americans off guard and leads furious fighting around more mortain for three to four days, but the operation is a dismal failure. and when it's over it's clear the germans have to get out of normandy or risk losing everything that's left. so in the wake of mortaine the americans are hoping to destroy the german army. patton has had to siphon off formations in brittany which he
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doesn't want to, why is that? there are supply boards like you see in that just like cherbourg. they're going to destroy the port cities when they have the chance. but the rest of patton's army will swing around eastward and patton is hoping to swing toward the landing beaches and snap that trap shut and join hands with the 21st army group, british and canadians coming from the other direction. originally this is the concept for the allies but bradley will tell them to halt and this is a controversial decision in normandy because it's thought of by some historians that allows germans to escape who otherwise might not have. well, regardless of that, you do end up with an encirclement eventually by about august 18, 1944.
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tens of thousands of germans had escaped, some tanks escaped, vehicles, equipment and the like but the two sides do join hands in a town called shambois. what's interesting about this, it's not a link up of americans and british. it's americans and polish. captain laughlin waters from the 90th division, company commander, is reconing ahead of his unit on that day and they're under heavy artillery fire and he's taking cover in a ditch, kind of see what's ahead as he's going to have orders to move forward and take the town of shambois and he notices a guy in a funny looking uniform walking along the road braving the shell fire. he knows he's not german but he's not sure who he is, so he decides to go from cover, he doesn't want to, find out who he is and talk to him. turned out it's a polish army commander. you have a polish armored

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