Mortain - August 6-10, 1944

 

THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION WAS GRACIOUSLY PROVIDED BY MR. MARK REARDON AND MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED WITHOUT THE AUTHOR'S PERMISSION

 

 

CHRONOLOGY OF THE ACTIONS OF 2nd SS PANZER DIVISION DAS REICH AT MORTAIN

August 6th, 1994

2200 hours - The DER FUHRER Regiment is tangled up in a traffic jam caused by the I Abteilung LAH at a crossroads northeast of Mortain. The Liebstandarte units have priority of road movement and DER FUHRER has to sit and wait until the LAH Panthers pass by. Several precious hours are wasted until Otto Weidinger is able to get his units moving again. Beginning at 0100 hours, the main effort of the 2nd SS Panzer Division - DEUTSCHLAND and SS Panzeraufklarungs Abteilung 2 - launch an attack to secure Mortain itself and overrun U.S. units to the south of the town. By 0230 hours, the attacking SS troops have overcome several roadblocks and scattered a TD platoon, infantry platoon, and antitank platoon belonging to 2/120th Infantry Regiment, 30th U.S. Infantry Division. Panzer Regiment DAS REICH, will trail behind DEUTSCHLAND and exploit any breakthroughs in the American defenses. The ultimate objective of this attack is the Pontaubalt Bridge at Avranches some 35 kilometers to the west. Once the bridge is taken, the entire U.S. 3rd Army under General Patton will be cut off from General Bradley's forces.

0430 hours - III Abteilung "DF" approaches the crossroads of L'Abbaye Blanche just to the north of Mortain. It is very foggy and visibility is down to 100 meters. III/DF is supported by four Sturmgeschutz under Hauptsturmfuhrer Roeder. Weidinger's DF Regiment is tasked with seizing the crossroads and maintaining contact with the southern flank units of LAH. As 9. Kompanie nears the small cluster of houses, two 3-inch antitank guns from the 1st platoon of A/823rd TD battalion begin engaging the German vehicles. Nine vehicles, to include 6 Sdkfz 251's, are destroyed. Many of the surviving panzergrenadiers are killed by machinegun fire as they tumble from the stricken halftracks. No one is able to spot the positions of the American defenders. The delay caused by the LAH Panther battalion has deprived DF of any chance of a surprise attack on the American defenses. Otto Weidinger and the III Abteilung commander are forced to take shelter in a nearby farmhouse when their command vehicles come under fire. As the regimental commander, III Abteilung commander, and selected staff are sheltering under a table in the kitchen, a mortar shell explodes on the roof and showers them with debris and shrapnel. Fortunately, no one is injured.

1000 hours - I Abteilung "D" reports that it has taken Mortain after a fierce fight with C/120th Infantry. Scattered resistance continues in the town for the remainder of the afternoon. One platoon from C/120th Infantry takes shelter atop Hill 314 with the remainder of the 2nd Battalion, 120th Infantry. A battlegroup consisting of elements of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division attached to "DR" has not been able to budge the stubborn American defenders atop the hill. Hill 314, just east of Mortain, provides American artillery observers with an excellent view of the entire countryside for miles around. The I Abteilung "D" is able to link up with elements from II "DF" which have penetrated into the northern outskirts of Mortain. "DF" was able to overrun a platoon of the 120th antitank company as well as the headquarters platoon of F/120th Infantry during this period. The American prisoners taken during this action later volunteered to carry back to the "DF" aid station the burned survivors of two "DR" Sturmgeschutz knocked out near L'Abbaye Blanche.

1200 hours - II Abteilung "D" has gained its initial objectives near Romagny, just southwest of Mortain. The lead elements of II/D ambushed the I&R; platoon of the U.S. 120th Infantry Regiment in Romagny earlier that morning and after a two hour fight killed or captured all of the Americans with the exception of three soldiers who were able to escape. A small group of panzergrenadiers from II/D, supported by two Pzkfw IV from 6/SS-Panzerregiment 2, attacked C/197th Field Artillery soon after Romagny had been taken. The Americans recovered rapidly from the surprise assault and managed to hold off the German infantry for several hours. An American truck mechanic assigned to the artillery battery managed to knock out one of the two panzers with a bazooka, killing two of its crew. The Germans suffered six other casualties while the Americans lost one man killed and several wounded. One American truck and a jeep were destroyed by cannon fire from the panzers. Again, dense fog seemed to have helped the defenders fend off a surprise attack.

1400 hours - The Americans are reacting to the German counterattack with fighter-bombers and artillery fire. Heavy artillery and mortar fire is falling on the "DF" regiment positions north of Mortain. A group of SS men from "D" are sheltering inside some houses in Mortain. One of them, perhaps to relieve the tension, is playing the harmonica. Soon all of the German soldiers are singing "Oh, the Beautiful Rhine." An American soldiers, also seeking cover from the artillery fire, opens the door upon hearing the singing. He is looking at the SS men and shakes his head, muttering that "war is a merry thing." The Germans, along with their bemused prisoner, escape injury during the shelling.

1600 hours - A lull in the American shelling allows the Germans to fully deploy their forces into defensive positions and begin tying in with their neighboring units. The "DF" and "D" regiments have linked up on the hills immediately to the west of Mortain. "DR" however, has not been able to establish contact with the Liebstandarte to the north. In the center of the "DR" sector is the 17th SS Panzergrenadier battlegroup. It has been unable to take Hill 314 despite a heavy artillery preparation. American artillery threw back every assault the Gotz Von Berlichingen unit made. In the south, Panzer Aufklarungsabteilung "DR" has established positions from the area of Bonberouge to Mortain.

2100 hours - An American medical convoy consisting of several ambulances of the 105th Medical Battalion has driven up from Barenton in the south and blundered into an outpost manned by Panzer Aufklarungsabteilung "DR". There were fifteen wounded men in the ambulances from 3/120th Infantry. The Germans kept the lightly wounded as prisoners and freed the remainder of the convoy.

8 August 2021

0815 Hours - Kampgruppe Ullrich, consisting of an infantry abteilung (-) from SS-Panzergrenadier Division 17 and a zug of Pzkfw IV from Panzer Regiment "DR", attacked the positions of B/120th Infantry on Hill 285 located just to the northwest of Mortain.  KG Ullrich had assaulted the hill the previous morning and seized the eastern half, but lost at least three Pzkfw IV doing so, as well as a number of personnel casualties.  The 8 August assault started with patrol activity shortly after midnight on 7/8 August.  Approximately 5-6 panzergrenadiers armed with grenades and a flammenwerfer approached the positions of the 2nd Platoon, B/120th Infantry.  An American outpost detected the patrol, following which an exchange of grenades ensued.  The Germans brought the flamethrower into action, but it malfunctioned and only sprayed one American soldier with oil.  When a grenade wounded several of the Germans, they decided to retreat, leaving the flammenwerfer and one seriously wounded grenadier behind.  At 0815 hours, three Pzkfw IV moved forward to attack the American rifle company, but quickly pulled back when the lead vehicle was destroyed at 50 meters range by a dug in 3-inch towed AT gun from Lieutenant Francis J. Connors' 2nd platoon of A Company, 823rd TD Battalion.  The Americans begin firing artillery to ensure the SS infantry did not follow up the abortive assault made by the "DR" panzers.  Several of the rounds struck near the American positions, forcing the U.S. infantry and 3-inch gun crew to seek shelter.  A captured Sherman tank manned by "DR" panzer crewman took advantage of this situation to penetrate the U.S. infantry company position, but when it realized that none of the panzergrenadiers had been able to exploit the situation, the "Sherman" pulled back to the German lines.  Just to the north, a dismounted attack by KG Ullrich was more successful and forced A/120th Infantry to pull back two hedgerows.  Two U.S. antitank guns from Lieutenant Connors' platoon did not retreat and found themselves occupying a salient forward of A and B Companies of the 120th Infantry.

0900 hours - DR dispositions around Mortain are as follows  DF REgiment is arrayed north of the town with III/DF linking up with Liebstandarte at Road Junction 278 above the U.S. roadblock at L'Abbaye Blanche.  The DF pionere company is on the right flank of III/DF. The roadblock is still being held by elements of the 1st platoon of A/823rd TD as well as the 1st and 2nd platoons of F/120th Infantry.  An attack against the TD positions earlier that morning was repulsed with the loss of two German halfracks carrying 75mm howitzers and an ammunition carrier.  Two DR panzerspahwagen and a gasoline truck were destroyed by bazooka fire shortly afterwards.  II/DF had occupied positions just south of L'Abbaye Blanche opposing the 2/117th Infantry and elements of the 629th TD Battalion (M10 SP guns).  The U.S. battalion is in reality a company (-) in strength due to the fact that two rifle companies had been detached the previous day to assist other units. 2/117th had also launched a failed attack against II/DF during the evening of 7 August and had suffered approximately 75 casualties.

KG Fick, composed of elements of Panzergrenadier Division 17 attached to DR, had surrounded the 2/120th Infantry atop Hill 314 just east of Mortain, but proved unable to reduce the American defensive positions. This was primarily due to a single forward observer team which called artillery fire on any move that KG Fick tried to make.  I/D and II/D defend Mortain and Romagny (just south of Mortain) respectively.  Krag's Panzeraufklarungs abteilung is screening the southern flank of DR.

1000 - Hausser, commander of the 7 Armee, visits the division command post. He told "DR" that the attack would continue after the XLVII Panzer Korps recieved addtional tanks promised by the Fuhrer (Panzer Division 9 which would be diverted to Mayenne to seal up a breakthrough in the LXXXI Armee Korps line).

1400 hours - DR launches a counterattack against the northern flank of the 35th Infantry Division.  The 35th Division had been committed south of Mortain in order to seal up a gap which had developed between the 30th Division at Mortain and 2nd Armored Division (-) at Barenton to the south. Barenton lies halfway between Mortain and Mayenne, where CCA, 3rd Armored Division, 1st U.S. Infantry Division, and 90th U.S. Infantry Division were in the process of breaking through LXXXI Armee Korps.  The counterattack consisted of elements of Krag's panzeraufklarungs abteilung, reinforced by reconnaissance troops from 2 Panzer Division and 116 Panzer Division, as well as a Pzkfw IV platoon and Panther platoon commanded by Willy Durr. Durr's panzers overrun a section of the 134th Infantry's cannon company, killing seven Americans and destroying two 105mm howitzers.  The Pzkfw IV platoon is able to ambush the Sherman platoon supporting the 1/134th Infantry, knocking out five American tanks for no loss.  One of Durr's Panthers also knocks out two M-10 TD's from the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion.  The counterattack also overruns the aid station of the 2/134th Infantry and the motor park of the same battalion.  A number of medics are captured, but the headquarters company of 2/134th Infantry does not suffer many casualties as the panzers do not have very much infantry support. After a Panther and Pzkfw IV are knocked out by bazooka fire, a pair of Pzkfw IVs occupy a position astride the main supply route leading to the 1/134th Infantry and 2/134th Infantry.  Both of the U.S. battalion are cut off from support.  Interestingly enough, the panzer crews capture several officers from the 134th Infantry, as well as medics from the 737th Tank Battalion, all of whom are released after being captured.

1800 hours - The 1/119th Infantry attacks II/D at Romagny.  Artillery fire wounds Sturmbannfuhrer Schreiber, commander of II/D.  The U.S. troops launch two attacks against Romagny, losing two Shermans destroyed and suffering several casualties amongst the two infantry companies making the attack.  The U.S. tanks manage to destroy one Pzkfw IV and an ammunition vehicle during the fighting.  Convinced that the assault on Romagny will not be successful unless his battalion is reinforced, the attack is halted for the night.

9 August 2021

0200 hours - During the night new orders came in.  DAS REICH was to remain on the defensive.  It was not known when the attack would be resumed.

0900 hours - American fighter bombers become active once the fog begins to burn off.  American artillery observers are bringing heavy fires down all along the DAS REICH front, although it is especially heavy in the I/D sector (near Romagny).

1100 hours - In the late morning, the Americans attacked from the direction of Juvigny against the positions of the DER FUHRER regiment (note  must have been the 12th Infantry Regiment).  Several other American attacks, supported by tanks, came in from the north and northwest, but were brought to a halt.  Several American tanks were knocked out by Panzerfaust.  The right flank of DER FUHRER is particularly threatened.  The link with LAH is severed.  Casualties are heavy.  Hill 285, northwest of Mortain, is reoccupied by the Americans, but is recaptured by a counterattack.

1200 hours - Twelve American tanks are sighted northwest of Barenton (south of Panzeraufklarungs Abteilung DAS REICH).  In that town is positioned a battalion of Infanterie Division 275 (note  this unit was driven out by a TF from 3rd AD and 3/120th Infantry Regiment on 6 August).  A blocking group from the DAS REICH division staff section was set up on Hill 266, about 1.5 kilometers southwest of the division CP, in order to protect it from the advancing American tanks.

2030 hours - The Americans attacked with tanks against Romagny.  A counterattack by II/D, supported by panzers, forced the Americans (1/119th Infantry) to break off their assault.  Three American tanks were shot up near Bion.  The II/D and Aufklarungs Abteilung DR quickly set up a defense along the Mortain - La Houberte - Bion line in order to stop the advance of the U.S. 35th Infantry Division.

10 August, 1944

1500 hours - American troops attacked the I/D and II/D without success. Almost simultaneously, Aufklarungs Abteilung DR was also attacked.  Their commander, Sturmbannfuhrer Krag, rallied his troops and restored their positions (although an entire battalion of U.S. Infantry had already passed through AA "DR" defensive positions and were now behind them).  In the Der Fuhrer sector, tanks from the U.S. 3rd Armored Division attacked.  Several of them were knocked out with Panzerfaust (note to include the commander of H/33rd Armor, Lieutenant Wray, who was machinegunned trying to get his driver out of his burning Sherman).  Several panzergrenadiers from DF, thinking that the American attack has been halted, walk out into a field to look at a knocked out American tank.  They are fired upon by troops from F/119th Infantry and lose several men.  German casualties were very heavy.

1600 hours - Troops from KG Fick took Hill 307 just to the south of Hill 314.  The surrounded American rifle companies from 2/120th Infantry which are trapped atop Hill 314 are able to link up for the first time.  An airdrop takes place that afternoon, with about half of the supplies being recovered by the Americans, half by DAS REICH.  An attack against the surrounded American troops is unsuccessful.

1800 hours - At this point in the battle, DAS REICH came under control of the LVIII Reserve Panzer Korps.  It had previously been under the operational control of XLVII Panzer Korps.  The order was given to pull back the DR main line of resistance to just east of Mortain.

2200 hours - DEUTSCHLAND pulled back, despite rough terrain and severe American artillery fire.  This concluded the fiercest fighting of the Mortain battle for DAS REICH.  The German troops had faced especially violent air and artillery attacks.

 

Updated October 26, 2021

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