MaJ. Haynes Dugan 1944
By Col. Rqlph M. Rogers
In the St. Lo Breakout on July 26, 1944, Combat Command B was attached to the 1st Infantry Division, and after turning the corner near Marigny, advanced rapidly to the west toward Coutances on the west coast. By August 5th the combat command had gained a bridgehead over the See River in the vicinity of Cherence le Roussel, about four miles northwest of Mortain, where it was relieved by elements of the 30th Infantry Division on August 6, 1944
(SPEARHEAD in the West shows CC B had been before this attached to the 4th Infantry Division July.30) Combat Command A had seized Mortain, was relieved by the l.st Infantry Division on August 5th, which in turn was relieved by the 30th Infantry Division on August 6th. Combat Command B was withdrawn to an assembly area west of Mortain for rest and maintenance after 12 days of continuous combat.
In the early morning hours of August 7th the Germans launched a major counteroffensive through Mortain in the direction of Avranches by elements of four divisions. The 120th Infantry Regiment (30th Infantry Division) was driven from Mortain with heavy losses. Combat Command B was attached to the 30th Infantry Division and took up positions to block German movements to the west.
Subsequently General Hobbs organized his defense by attaching two-thirds of the combat command strength of Combat Command B to his 119th Infantry Regiment and ordering that positions would be held at all costs and forbidding any vehicle movement. During four days of fierce fighting heavy losses of men and material were suffered, but the Germans were unsuccessful in moving further to the west and began a withdrawal to the east on August 12th.
In this operation the armored vehicles of Combat Command B had been used as immobile pill boxes susceptible to being picked off one by one by German artillery and anti-tank guns which had excellent observation of our positions. In commemoration of this operation the 30th Infantry Division adopted the nickname of "The Rock of Mortain." (One infantry battalion was later to receive a Presidential Unit Citation for this action). To the men of Combat Command B. this seemed ironic, to say the least.
THE DEATH OF COL. CORNOG
One of the most devastating losses incurred by the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division in World War II, certainly to the command structure, was the loss of its commander Col. William W. Cornog, Jr. on August 9, 1944 near le Mesnil Tove, along with key members of his staff, this at a crucial moment in the blunting of the German drive to reach Avranches begun August 7th on direct orders from Hitler, a counterattack which, if successful, would have divided the U.S. First Army and that of The Third Army, then conducting in what in essence was an unguided tour of Brittany.
Cornog's death came at a time when the 3rd Armored was, in addition to taking part in what was probably the greatest breakout of the war, undergoing various changes of command which for inexperience troops would have been crippling, but the fighting never stopped. Cornog himself had succeeded Col. Graeme G. Parks on July 18, 1944 prior to the massive bombardment of the Marigny-St. Gilles area of July 26th, leading to the breakout, but after the events coming after the crossing of the Vire River at Aire and the taking of Hauts Vents on July 10th by Col. Roysdon's indomitable task force and CC A's capture of St. Jean de Daye the following day.
Even more of a blow to the division command structure had been the relief of Major General Leroy H. Watson about July 30th in the midst of the breakout and the apportioning of CC A to the 1st Infantry Division and CC B to the 4th Infantry Division, the latter going to the 30th Infantry Division August 7th.
But to the GI in the line these changes in the higher command made little difference and the fighting never stopped. There was, though, hope for a pause for rest and maintenance for CC B on August 7th when grouped near Refuvielle, the Germans launched their attack upon Mortain.
The deepest thrust made by the Germans was by the 2nd Panzer Division of XLVII Corps, part of the Seventh Army, it making a penetration from just north of Mortain to below le Mesnil Tove to le Mesnil Adelee and were scheduled to attack toward Avranches and the sea on August 9th, but the preceding day our pressure brought a slight pullback for counterattacks near le Mesnil Tove and Cherence.
Meeting this, and on the south side of the German thrust was CC B, with Col. Cornog's Task Force 2 consisting of the following:
2nd Bn 36th AIR 2nd Bn 33rd AR Co A 83rd Rcn.Bn
l st Pl Co B 703rd TD Bn
2nd P1 Co. C 703rd TD Bn
2nd P1 Co B 23rd Armd Eng
plus medical and maintenance detachments, according to "SPEARHEAD in The West." TF 2's objective on August 8th was to put in a roadblock east of Juvigny le Tertre and their advance roughly paralleled that of the 2nd Panzer Division„ but in the other direction. This they did by early afternoon and made contact with the 119th Regt. of the 30th Infantry Division, to which it was attached. In the meantime Col. Royston's TF 1 had made contact with the 8th RCT at Cherence. TF 3 - LTC Hogan - attacked the road junction north of Mortain and after heavy fighting got -within 100 yards of his objective, then leagured.
As recounted in SPEARHEAD, for the next two days and nights fighting went on continuously." Or, as Blumenson put it in "Breakout and Pursuit,"Essentially the battle was small unit combat, 'infiltration and counter infiltration', close-ranging fighting by splinter groups maneuvering to outflank and in turn being outflanked, a 'seesawing activity consisting of minor penetrations by both sides,' operations characterized by ambush and surprise and fought on a level often no higher than that of the individual soldier." The terrain was precipitous and much wooded, with the See river, running generally east and west and a little south of the villages of Cherence, Cuves and Brecey. It was not tank country.
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