Soldiers don't die

"A man dies only when he is forgotten"

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Eighth in action - Transcribed from the Blue Book


From Melville J. Batt's copy of the "Blue Book" By the  28th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division, Louisiana: Army & Navy Publishing Company, 1946.

 [These pages were originally typeset in two columns. They have been transcribed and appear as a single column for readability purposes.] – Editor

Failure to get into action during World War I was no fault of the Eighth Infantry Division.  It was simply a question of being beaten to the punch by the arrival of the Armistice.  As a consequence, the Eighth Division was, prior to Normandy D-Day, young in both experience and point of service.  It was young in service for it had been activated in first in January 1918. It was young in point of experience because it was just preparing to move out of its training camps in France and up to the front lines when that November morning in 1918 occurred.

To offset this dual handicap, the Eighth took into its re-activated organization, 1 July 1940, units which had impressive histories of long and meritorious service.  In some cases this service dated as far back as the beginnings of our constitutional government,

None of the units which now comprise the Eighth Division was to be found in the original organization: 13th, 28th and 121st Infantry Regiments, Special Troops Units and Division Artillery Battalions.

So it was that, although the Division, as such, was untried, it hit Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, on 4 July 1944, with units of highly colorful tradition.

Here, as a member of the VIII Corps, which had gained the barest of footholds on the enemy’s shore, the Eighth Division had only to wait four days before attacking to the south in the La Haye Du Puits sector.  For the first five grueling days of combat experience for the young, untried Division, it advanced rapidly against stiff, well-organized resistance, until, on 13 July, it reached the hard-earned north bank of the Ay River.  The Division dug in and held on until 26 July, when it effected a difficult crossing of the Ay to establish the bridgehead whyich was to enable the remaining units of the VIII Corps and the Fourth and Sixth Armored Divisions to rupture the wall of resistance and spill over into Brittany and Northern France.

Racing closely behind these pile-driving units, the Eighth Division rolled up impressive advances, moving rapidly through Coutances, Granville and Avranches, against a German Army which was showing the strain by becoming increasingly disorganized.


Driving relentlesslysouth from Avranches, the Division had seized the key communications city of Rennes by nightfall of 3 August. Here, for the next ten days, the Division dug in for the valiant defense of this nerve center which was so vitally important to the success of the Allied offensive.  While they were still carrying out this tremendous mission, the Division’s 121st Infantry Regiment was temporarily attached to the 83rd Division to take part in thye fiercely bitter fighting then going on in the St. Malo area.  In the course of this fighting, the 121st took Dinard by storm on 14 August, sweeping aside the stubbornly resisting German garrison.

From Rennes, the Division, preceded by a task force of 28th Infantrymen, then made another rapid move to Brest, this time by motor.  Shortly after  noon of 25 August the Division, together with other chosen units of the VIII Corps, began the battle for  this iron-bound, seemingly impregnable French port which, with its excellent harbor and docking facilities, was to prove to be one of the strongest links in the chain that was ultimately to bind the muscles of the arrogant monster, Germany.  Itw as among the bitterest of fighting the Division was to experience.  And the Division gave an examplary account of itself, trading blow for blow with the German garrison of 50,000 until just a week before the port finally fell.

Ordered out of its positions around Brest, the Division now moved to the Crozon peninsula, a strongly-fortified finger of war-pocked land that continued to menace Brest from the south.  In one of its most sparkling engagements, the Division over-ran the rugged enemy defenses in short time, completely routing the de-moralized and disorganized Germans.  In just four days of brilliant in-fighting and team-work, the Division cleared the stubborn peninsula, bagging a total of more than 7,000 prisoners.

Dusting off its hands, the division moved September 30, on to the Duchy of Luxembourg, where it assumed the task of holding a 23-mile sector of the Our River front.

Several weeks later, on 16 November, certain elements of the Division began to relieve comparable units of the 28th Division in the sector southeast of Aachen, Germany.  From here, on 21 November, the Division began a hard drive through dense, forbidding forests, clinging mud and ever-present mines to seize the town of Hurtgen.  Many casualties and exhausting difficulties were sufferd in the Hurtgen Forest, for seven difficult days. After one more day of slow, bloody and torturous street fighting, the town was captured on 28 November, paving the way for the next offensive: against the town of Kleinhau, which was summarily taken the next day.

[EDITOR: Note how only a tiny paragraph is devoted to Hurtgen Forest.  This was the singular bloodiest battle of the war. The US Army lost more men here than the Marines lost in Iwo Jima. It was a tactical disaster and failures of communication between the Generals and their subordinates resulted in the wasting of thousands of American lives. If it were not for the pivotal Battle of the Bulge which occurred a week or so later, the Hurtgen Forest would be remembered as the most significant conflict in the entire European Theater of Operations.  The Hurtgen offensive was covered up hastily after the war ended, and many of the documents pertaining to it were deemed classified. To this day, it is a battle that the US Army would like to forget.  America had no idea what happened in Hurtgen Forest until the last ten years, when surviving veterans started to come forward and talk about it.  Since then books have been published and movies made to commemorate America’s bloodiest battle on foreign soil.  It has been described as seven days in Hell. Entire regiments and battalions were wiped out with 100% casualties.  There was much confusion as to who belonged to which unit, with so many replacements coming in to compensate for massive and devastating casualties. There was a 28th Infantry Regiment and a 28th Infantry Division which fought alongside each other, and when they met they couldn’t tell each other apart.  There was also an 8th infantry regiment and an 8th infantry Division, only adding to the confusion.  NCO’s and commanders were routinely fired and replaced by new officers who had no tactical experience, who sent in group after group of replacement soldiers to be killed.  The Germans later even admitted that the US Army could have gone around the Forest rather than trying to fight their way through it, and avoided the entire engagement altogether.  The Germans were deeply dug in, camouflaged and well-supplied and well-defended, and the Americans were starving, underarmed and huddled in trenches.  It has been compared to the bloody, cold, wet, miserable conditions of Passchendale in World War I.  The 8th Division relieved the exhausted and war-fatigued 28th Division, who had slogged through mud and trenches full of water, to meet the harsh winter of November 1944 which saw temperatures of 40 degrees below zero and ground frozen so solid that foxholes had to be chiseled with bayonets and blown out with grenades. If my grandfather fought in this battle or was involved with it tactically in any way, no wonder he never spoke about it, was not proud of his rank and hated the US Army. Personally, I don’t blame him.]

In rapid succession, Brandenburg fell on 3 December and Bergstein on 5 December. Other foot troops of the Division fought their way through heavily mined woods and dug-in bunkers of concrete and logs to reach the Roer River along a six-mile stretch, east of Bergstein.

Building efficient all-around defenses, the Division held its positions firmly during the powerful German counter-drive in mid-December. On 21 December, with a bleak Christmas in the offing, elements of the Division began a limited offensive, seizing the Roer River town of Obermaubach and the remaining enemy-held territory in the Division sector west of the Roer.

Well after a New Year’s that had been as bleak as Christmas, the Division continued to hold.  Not until early February did it move slightly north to take over a Roer River front opposite Duren and Niederau, on 23 February, the Division crossed the flood-swollen Roer, at the south flank of the great First and Ninth US Army combined offensive.  Troops of the Eighth Division cleared the stubborn south half of Duren on 25 February and drove to the Rhine in a brief ten days, taking approximately 50 German towns, more than 10,000 prisoners; and destroying tons of equipment that the enemy could ill afford to lose.

The Division’s 13th Infantry was attached to the Third Armored Division, cutting another wide, bleeding swath to the Rhine, and seizing the northern third of the key city of Cologne.

Still involved in the Cologne offensive, the Division, after six days in Corps Reserve, took over the Cologne-Bonn sector of the west bank of the Rhine, where it fought and held until the early days of the Remagen bridgehead.  Then, on 28 March, troops of the Division began the move across the Rhine in the Remagen area.  On the following day, the entire Division began its attack north of the Siegen area.  As a result of this, Division elements crossed the Sieg River on 1 April.  After three days of fierce, determined enemy resistance, the city of Siegen fell.

Two days later, the Division, now integrated into the team of the XVIII Corps, began the drive which was to result in the entrapment or annihilation of more than 350,000 German troops.  In a mere ten days, the Division rolled up a satisfying advance of more than sixty miles, siezing a total of nearly 200 towns and villages and capturing well over 48,000 completely beaten Wehrmacht veterans.  With this outstanding successful completion of its mission, the Division next received orders to occupy and govern the Dusseldorf-Wuppertal-Wissen-Mulheim area.

Once again shifting to new commanders, the Division was ordered under the control of the British Second Army, with which organization it crossed the Elbe River, early on the morning of 1 May, at Bleckelde, which then marked the extreme northwest sector of the Allied front.  A lightning stab toward the Baltic Sea netted more than a hundred German towns before the Division reached Schwerin at noon of 2 May.  Here, at the capital city of the province of Mecklenberg, the Division halted and stepped aside to permit the British troops to sweep on to the Baltic.

By now, the disorganization and demoralization of the enemy were rushing toward a feverish climax, as was evidenced by the large bodies of German troops which marched up to surrender all along the roads of advance.  So great was the enemy’s desire to capitulate that, by 4 May, when the final announcement of the surrender of all German troops in the north came, the Division’s bag of prisoners reached a grand total in excess of a quarter million men.

By 3 May, elements of the Division had made triumphant and joyous contact with the Russians, thus marking the end of the long and arduous struggle to convince the hard-headed adversary that he was beaten.

And so, with the complete and ignominous capitulation of all German land, air and sea forces, the combat record of the Division in World War II was completed.

The Eighth Infantry Division had come of age in service and experience.

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Desert Training? Camp Lagoona, AZ 1943

During 1943, the 8th Infantry Division was moved cross country to Arizona for desert survival training.  This was done because at the time, High Command thought grandpa's unit would be sent to invade North Africa with Patton's Third Army.  The men lived in sandy tents for a few months and were scorched by the heat in their heavy canvas combat gear.  Mel showed very little detail of what they were doing out there, but he did find time to go sightseeing and took some color Kodachrome slides of the things he found...

Their campsites were surrounded by giant saguaro cactus.

Marksmanship qualification at the rifle range.  Mel himself earned an Intermediate level Sharpshooter pin for the rifle that he could wear on his uniform.  It is the iron cross with the target in the center we see on his left breast pocket. It had a small tag hanging beneath it which said "RIFLE"

Some of Mel's buddies standing around a Jeep.  It is clearly hot out there as one man is stripped to the waist.

Mel also liked to take some nice pictures of the local flora and fauna.  Here is a tiny prickly pear cactus. The picture below is a barn owl that they found while climbing a nearby mountain.

...And while exploring a cave Mel found, he carried out a live bat! (Notice the Staff Sergeant chevron and rocker bar on his shoulder patch)

Grandpa liked bats.  Why? Because of his last name. I imagine "Batman" or something along those lines was probably his Army nickname.

Below: There were many "ghost towns" out there.  Here is an abandoned cattle ranch he spotted while they were riding in a Jeep to go someplace.

For doing such an outstanding job out there in Headquarters Company, keeping the operational maps in order and coordinating his squad actions in the field during the desert maneuvers, Staff Sergeant Batt was awarded an Army Commendation on the 27th of July, 1943.  He was clearly a competent soldier who had leadership abilities.