Army Quartermaster Museum -
Fort Lee, Virginia
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
since 27 May 2001