The Race across France

Meeting The Tea Drinkers in Closing the Falaise Gap

On the12th of August, the VII Corps attacked northeast to attempt to make a juncture with the XXX British Corps and cut off the retreating German Seventh Army. In the four day race that followed, German rear guards did their best to hold two shoulders of the escape gap open while Allied artillery and air pounded the fleeing troops. Withdrawal routes were strewn with hundreds of tanks and thousands of vehicles. On the 17th contact was made and by the 18th, remnants of the army were surrounded to be cut to bits and eliminated.
On August 21st the drive started crossing the Seine on past places famed for the glorious fighting of American troops in 1917 and 1918 - Chateau Thierry, Soissons, Belleau Woods, and sweeping into Belgium. So quickly did our flying columns move that the German command did not know where to expect them next. Even railroad trains, loaded with troops and supplies and operating in what their crews believed to be the safety of rear areas, were surprised and destroyed by our armored spearheads. Everywhere in France the German army was in chaos and there seemed to be no safe place to reorganize it short of the German border.

  • 12 August 1944
    Having marched all night, the battalion pulled into positions southeast of Oisseau at 0625. At 0700 the Battalion received orders from Division Artillery, 3rd Armored Division, to move out immediately and to join task force X column of CCA, Third Armored Division in an attack to seize the high ground la Ferte-Mace to Ranes. The attack advanced rapidly through Mayenne northeast. The battalion went into firing position southeast of St. Cryen-Pail at 14zo but did no firing. Then at 1640 hours the battalion took its place in the column and continued to advance, going into position north of Le Brais at 2300 hours.
  • 13 August 1944
    The battalion remained in position in general support of CCA. During the night the road was cut some 1500 yards behind the battery positions by enemy infantry. Second Lieutenant Overath, returning to his combat team, surprised a column of German foot troops and killed and wounded several with machine gun fire. In the morning Captain Cobb treated five wounded Germans who were brought into the CP by men of the 45th Med. Bn. At 1130, a patrol was sent out to scout the area north of the battery positions. This patrol returned at 1330 with twelve prisoners and information to the effect that there was a concentration of enemy infantry about two thousand yards to the north. At 1400, Captain Mayer took another patrol out into that area with the intention of laying artillery on the reported enemy position. The patrol, however, was unable to contact the enemy, and returned to the CP with z prisoners. About 17oo, a group of Frenchmen led by a Corporal of the FFI brought eight prisoners to the CP.
  • 14 August 1944
    The battalion remained in position in general support of CCA. The Ranes forces secured the Ranes road net and task forces 1 and 2 of CCB moved up from Carrouges. At 2300, the 391st groupment was assigned to CCB and that unit received orders to advance and assist in seizing and securing the main road intersections in Fromentel, then to attack north and west to secure the river line in the vicinity of Bernay-sur-Orne and Ecouche. During the day, the battalion fired 6 registrations, 3 normal barrages, 13 missions on infantry, 3 on mortars, 7 on bridges, 5 on tanks, 1 smoke concentration, and 1attack mission.
  • 15 August 1944
    The 391st Groupment was in direct support of Task Forces 1 and 2 of CCB in their attack to take Fromentel. During the day several missions were fired in the vicinity of the lakes southwest of La Barbeliere through the 54th Armored Field Artillery observer. One tank was reported burning from this fire. Also fired during the day' were six harassing missions, one preparation, five missions on anti-tank guns, one on an enemy battery, seven on infantry, one mission on an enemy-occupied town, and one interdiction mission. Headquarters Battery took one prisoner during the afternoon. Toward evening, the battalion went into position south of Le Mesnil Angot for the night.
  • 16 August 1944
    Task Forces 1 and 2 continued their attack on Fromentel. Very heavy interdiction fire was fired by the battalion during the night and early morning. Some 32 observed missions were fired and were reported to have been exceptionally effective, neutralizing the fire of anti-tank guns, dispersing enemy infantry and forcing their tanks to withdraw. Total rounds fired-3201. TF 1 advanced to a point about 2,000 yards south of Fromentel while TF 2 reached a point just north of Louge-sur-Maire. The Battalion went into position for the night just northwest of Annebeoq.
  • 17 August 1944
    All forces continued to meet very strong opposition during the day, the enemy fighting to keep his escape routes open. CCA entered the town of Fromentel from the south and east, while CCB advanced across the east-west road and was through the town by 2200. The 39tst fired a total of 40 missions during the day on a variety of enemy targets; two missions were smoke missions, marking targets for supporting bombers.
  • 18 August 1944
    The battalion remained in direct support of CCB Task Force t in their attack to take the high ground southwest of Putances, reinforced by the fire of the 45th, 67th, and 87th Armored Field Artillery Battalions, plus one battery of the 183rd FA. CCB secured its objective at 1100. A small task force was sent out by TF 1 with Lt. Fehl as artillery observer, to establish road block west of Putances. This force, at 1220, made contact with the British 11th Armored Division just south of Putanccs. The Falaisc Gap was closed. Task Forces 1 and 2 consolidated the objective and defensive fires were planned. The 391st turned all future fires over to the 87th Armored Field Artillery Battalion and began a period of rest and maintenance.

  • At Combat Command Headquarters there was a period of tension. Messengers ran in and out of the command tent. Radio men bent to catch transmissions, and rushed to deliver their hastily scrawled message blanks. Continually the staff poured over the well-worn and marked maps. Then it came. Call Sign Repeat-Call Sign. "We have met the Tea Drinkers. Did you get that? We have met the Tea Drinkers." Everyone got it at once. The Gap was closed. The crack German 7th Army was within a circle of steel.

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