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See You in Hell

The story of G Company, 357th Regiment, 90th Infantry Division

  2014, Aaron Elson

    This account was given to me by Lt. Claude Lovett of G Company, 357th Regiment, of the 90th Infantry Division. The first three pages and part of the fourth page have been lost, and the company diary ends abruptly. Claude doesn’t remember the name of the author; he only recalls that it was an enlisted man who was asked to keep an account of the company’s actions. It is possible that the man became a casualty.

    The diary begins on June 13, 1944. The company has been fighting in Normandy for almost a week, having landed on Utah Beach on June 7 or 8.

    Regular visitors to the World War II Oral History site will recognize Claude Lovett as the officer who rescued Lt. Jim Flowers on Hill 122 on July 12, 1944.

  

   Somewhere in Normandy, June 13, 1944: We lined up for the attack with our 24 men to assist the First and Third Battalions, who were supposed to attack at the same time. Our artillery registered in with smoke shells, and prepared to lay in their barrage.

    To our direct front was a wide open field, about 500 yards in width. It was zeroed in from every angle with enemy rifles, machine guns, mortars and deadly 88s.

    Lt. Regn called Battalion headquarters on the phone, to inquire whether the attack would jump off at the proper time. The dreaded reply came over the phone, "The attack would proceed according to schedule."

    Lt. Regn replied, "Okay, I’ll see you in hell."

    Lt. Regn, raising himself from his foxhole, signaled his men to get ready, and climbed up on the hedgerow. Below the phone jangled impatiently. Lt. Regn returned to his foxhole and the telephone. The orders were now to wait, the attack was called off. Men sank back into their holes with a sigh of relief.

    Lt. Lovett brought up the remainder of the company, which he had reorganized in the rear. We spent the remainder of the day digging and improving our positions. At night S/Sgt Jake Parton, our supply sergeant, with new replacements we had received, hauled up rations, water and ammunition. The ammunition was hauled all night, as we expected to fire all the next day.

    The following day, June 14th, we attacked by fire only, firing continually until 1400 in the afternoon. We drew heavy mortar fire and 88mm upon us. This continued all day, and we suffered heavy casualties for a defensive position.

    An orchard which was located in our positions was completely wiped out. Not a tree was left standing. Dead cattle littered the fields. The enemy barrage continued throughout the night. Sleep was impossible.

    Before daylight the next morning, we drew back to a Battalion assembly area. It was here that we received some new replacements. Among the replacements was an officer, Lt. Hoffman, who took over the third platoon. Lt. Lovett took over the duties of executive officer.

    The morning and part of the afternoon was spent in cleaning up and resting.

    In the afternoon, we received orders to move to the right flank of the Division, to fill a gap between the 90th and the 4th Divisions. We moved by truck, and arrived in the vicinity of Le Ham.

    Everything in general was quiet and normal here. We remained here a few days, and the men had a chance to get a good rest and a chance to catch up on their correspondence. We also received some more replacements.

    We had one casualty, when a man was shot while returning from a patrol. He was shot by one of his own men.

    On June 18th, we left Le Ham, moving out by truck. We rolled to the western end of the Peninsula to an area near Port Bail. We were to relieve a unit of the 9th Division, who had almost completed the cutting off of the Peninsula. It was now dark as we moved into their positions.

    The following morning, June 19th, we moved forward to complete the cutting off of the Peninsula. In completing this, we ran into some enemy tanks. In one instance, Jose J. Ortivez knocked out an enemy halftrack with a BAR, killing all its crew members. The second platoon, which was far in advance of the rest of the Company, was withdrawn, and a defensive position was organized. We lacked three hedgerows of cutting off the last north-south road and escape route for the Heinies trapped in the Peninsula. With all-around security, we set up for the night.

    During the morning of June 20th, we tried to improve our positions, to cut the last escape route of the Nazis. We were knocked back once again. Throughout the day we repulsed several counterattacks. Once again we secured our positions and set up for the night.

    On June 21st, we patrolled vigorously in the area to locate the Heinies. They were very strongly emplaced to our front. We tried to contact F Company, which was practically wiped out, having only two platoons left.

    From further information, we learned that an attack was planned for the next day.

    We attacked on June 22nd, with the third platoon on the right and the second on the left, and the first following on the left flank. Under a very heavy preparation of mortars from H Company, the second platoon reached their objective, but took a terrific slugging, because of lack of support from the third platoon. The second platoon had to withdraw one hedgerow.

    During this action, an enemy medium tank fired right down the middle of our sector, splitting the Company in two. Lt. Regn then moved the Company C.P. to a safer location, with Lt. Brotherton in charge. We maintained contact with the C.P. through the 536 radio. With the Company being split in two, Lt. Regn took control of the left half and Lt. Lovett took the right half. Again the same lone tank came down the narrow road in our sector. Lt. Lovett stood on the right of the road, receiving orders from Lt. Regn on the other side, while the enemy tank fired its 75mm and machine guns down the path between the two. Despite the heavy fire the two lieutenants were able to control the Company by yelling across the short space of road to one another. Shrapnel and machine gun fire were flying all around the 15-yard gap in the middle of the Company.

    Lt. Regn called for artillery fire to our front. We soon heard the whining of shells which landed about 75 yards in front of us. Lt. Regn called back to shorten the range 50 yards, in order to drive off the tank which was inflicting many casualties and holding us up. Battalion, knowing our position, refused to shorten the range. Lt. Regn insisted upon it and finally convinced them of the necessity. Again the shells were heard whining overhead. The men hugged the ground as the missiles landed between us and the tank. The artillery did its job, the tank withdrawing. The crisis was over. The Company reorganized its positions and was able to control the road and the last escape route of the Krauts in the Cherbourg Peninsula.

    We held that position all that night and the next day. We received several casualties from enemy shell fire, which they continually poured into us all day. Remaining in this position until the 25th of June, we were relieved by B Company, and returned to the vicinity of the Battalion C.P. Here we dug in, and spent a rather restful day and quiet night. We had received replacements this day, 65 in all, which we needed very badly. The Company was now reorganized with these replacements.

    The following day we returned to a position near the area we had just left to relieve F Company. We organized and improved these positions, which we held for a few days. During this time we received a continuous shelling, and suffered a few casualties. During our stay here, we sent out several patrols, consisting of reconnaissance and "hell raising affairs." On one of these patrols, Sgt. Bob Levick was killed. He volunteered for this patrol with the statement "It’s too damn quiet around here, I think I’ll go around and stir up some excitement." Also Robert M. Long, who had only been with the Company a few days, was killed. A 150mm shell landed directly in his foxhole.

    On the night of June 30th, we were relieved by a unit of the 79th Division, and returned to an area behind the front lines. Here we had a chance to clean up, get some good hot meals and plenty of rest. It was good to get away from the chatter of guns and the falling of shells. The only thing to shake us up a bit were the huge Long Toms stationed in an adjoining field. The men were able to attend church services on Sunday morning.

    Our stay here was short lived, as we left the area on July 3rd. We moved forward about five miles toward the front lines, to an area where we were in Division reserve. Here we dug in and stayed for the night.

    The next day we moved further toward the front to another area, still in Division reserve. Our positions were consolidated, and the Company C.P. group moved into some excellent German dugouts.

    This day was July 4th, and to celebrate, all artillery guns in positions in France fired one round into the German lines. Sometime during the day we were scared by what we thought was an enemy attack from our rear, but it turned out to be the Division Headquarters and C.P. guard celebrating the Fourth by firing several bursts of small arms fire.

    We remained all that day, and throughout the 5th of July. On the 6th, we were ordered to move up behind the First and Third Battalions, who had been committed and were attacking through St. Jores toward Beau Coudray. We moved into the required positions, and stayed there that night and part of the next day. A move was then initiated to protect the right flank of the Regiment. After a reconnaissance, Lt. Regn returned to move the Company into position.

    While we were moving into position, the orders were changed. We were now to move up behind and on the left flank of the First Battalion. This was to repel a very heavy Heinie counterattack, which had been going on for some time. A heavy enemy mortar barrage was laid down in our area while we were getting into position. Lt. Regn and S/Sgt Hayes were pinned down by the falling shells as they were returning to the C.P. They were out checking to see if contact had been made with the other units. The remainder of the night was spent digging and ducking, as interdictory mortar fire kept up all night.

    The next day we received orders to return to the Battalion. We returned and had just closed into the area when the First Battalion received another heavy counterattack. Our whole Battalion was ordered to the aid of the First Battalion, and G Company moved back to the positions of that morning. Remaining in this area, we received heavy mortar fire during the day and early afternoon and evening. About 2000, the counterattack subsided, and the Battalion was ordered back to the position of Division reserve. The first platoon under Lt. Berndt moved to outpost the Battalion’s right flank. The remainder of the Company moved into Battalion reserve. This was July 8th. We remained in this fairly quiet area until July 12th, the first platoon catching all the hell.

    The Battalion was then ordered around to the right flank of the Regiment. We were to try and outflank the enemy line that was holding up the First and Third Battalions. We moved around the foot of Hill 122 through the Foret de Mont Castre, up to the left rear of the 359th Infantry.

    The orders were to follow the left rear of the 359th, until there was room to push up on line on their left. The 359th never jumped off. Lt. Regn managed to get one platoon and one squad in line with the 359th.

    Lt. Lovett then contacted F Company of the 359th, and found that they knew nothing of an attack. The Lt. was assured by the acting Co. Commander of that Company that they were in no condition to attack as the morale of his men was very low, and the Company strength was far below par. This made very little or no impression upon Lt. Lovett, as we were in the same condition.

    After Lt. Lovett returned to the Company, Lt. Regn and he decided that Lt. Lovett should go to Battalion to inquire whether anyone knew what the hell was going on. Upon arriving at the Battalion C.P., he found that the pressure being pushed on our Company was coming from Division, Regiment and Battalion. He explained the situation to them, which they obviously could not see by looking at a map. Upon receiving permission to attack through F Company, 359th Infantry, Lt. Lovett returned after receiving these parting words from Col. Barth, our Regimental Commander: "Lieutenant, the reputation of this Regiment, and even the Division, rests solely upon the success of your Company in this attack. Get hold of your platoon leaders and noncoms, tell them this, and that they must get hold of their men and drive them forward." Lt. Lovett replied, "They will go forward, Colonel, all they need is the chance."

    Upon Lt. Lovett’s return, the information was given to Lt. Regn, who passed it down to platoon leaders and men. The platoons moved into position, and passed through F Company, 359th Infantry. While moving into position, Lt. Paige was mortally wounded, although we did not find out that he had died until a few months later.

    The platoons continued their advance forward under withering enemy machine gun and mortar fire. S/Sgt Adolph Hudec was wounded here alongside of Lt. Paige of the third platoon. The third platoon continued forward on the right and the second platoon on the left. With the great loss of Lt. Paige and Sgt. Hudec to the company and the third platoon, T/Sgt Milton Munch assumed command of the third platoon. We advanced approximately six hedgerows past the 359th, and again we were pinned down by hedge clipping machine gun slugs, enemy rifle grenades and 50mm mortar fire. It was at this time that our First Sergeant Henry J. Felicetti was killed, and several casualties sustained. Lt. Regn, pinned down behind a hedgeropw, could contact no one on the 536. Leaving his cover behind the hedgerow, Lt. Regn crawled to the middle of the field to get better reception on the 536. Machine gun bullets clipped the aerial of the radio. He then called Lt. Brotherton on the radio, explaining the situation. Lt. Brotherton relayed the message to Battalion. Lt. Regn then called Lt. Lovett over to discuss the possibility of committing the support platoon. Bewildered and with a look of that go to hell expression upon his face, Lt. Lovett crawled out to the open and exposed field where Lt. Regn lay. They decided it was impossible to commit the support platoon, because of the fact that the enemy was on our right, and the left flank was a wide open swamp.

    Lt. Brotherton then relayed the answer back from Battalion to our last message: "You cannot let machine gun fire hold you back, you must continue your advance." Looking at the machine gun fire clipping the hedgerows just two feet above the ground, Lt. Regn thought the situation impossible. But he sent word ahead to the second and third platoons to try and adjust mortar fire, and lay down heavy small arms fire and continue the advance.

    Sgt. Munch, in command of the third platoon, ordered his men to fire two clips per man immediately after the mortars ceased. In a few minutes the mortar fire arrived. First came the smoke shells, landing directly in the Heinies’ laps. The Krauts came out of their holes trying to subdue their burning clothes. Our shells were timed perfectly. Fifteen rounds of H.E. [high-explosive] followed directly behind the smoke shells, catching the Heinies out of their holes. We were rewarded with Teutonic yelps. Then came our barrage of small arms fire. It caught the Heinies with their pants down.

    We continued forward, and picked up a cowering Heinie in the brush, who told us that we had killed most of his comrades, and those that were alive had fled.

    We finally reached our assigned objective, the line where the Jerries were emplaced. Here we found scores of dead greenish-grey bodies. There were machine guns, mortars and rifles strewn all over the whole area. We captured a wounded Captain, whom Lt. Lovett wanted to shoot because of his arrogance. Lt. Regn curbed Lt. Lovett’s desires and sent the prisoner back through proper channels.

    We closed into our area for the night, with Lt. Regn passing word down to each man of the wonderful job they had done. Everyone settled down to a well-deserved night’s rest with a renewed feeling of confidence.

    Our ammunition was replenished during the night, and we jumped off the following morning, July 13th. Moving out cautiously, we advanced hedgerow after hedgerow without encountering any resistance. After advancing about four miles, we reached the day’s objective about 1440. The first platoon was ordered to move out at dark as a strong combat patrol. Their mission was to search out the area to the west and south of us and to knock out an enemy assault gun reported to be in the vicinity by G2. They were reinforced by bazookas, and very heavily armed. After thoroughly searching the area, they returned at 0200, reporting that they had found only friendly troops, and there was a great misunderstanding as to the correct password for the night.

    During the night we received orders to jump off at 0800 the following morning, July 14th. Our Company was in Battalion reserve. We moved out slowly, with E Company getting heavy shell fire and scattered small arms. E and F Companies moved forward steadily that day. By the end of the day, they had pushed across a small stream, bounded on either side by a wide open space. There not being room for the whole reserve Company, we moved the third platoon across the stream to protect E Company’s right flank. These positions were consolidated, and a quiet night was spent, except for intermittent shell fire.

    During the night, the Heinies must have pulled out, as the Battalion moved forward steadily, advancing several hedgerows, and closing in on an area in the vicinity of Motorville. On the night of July 14th, we relieved H Company of the 358th Infantry, who were in a defensive position near Ney. Being subject to shell fire, the men dug in, and we spent the night rather quietly.

    During the morning and early part of the afternoon, July 15th, we spent sniping at Jerries which could be seen on an island across the stream from us. Late in the afternoon, we decided we would try to send a combat patrol across the stream to investigate the island. The patrol consisted of the first platoon under the leadership of Lt. Berndt.

    The patrol proceeded cautiously across the wide open ground. The scouts crossed the open stream, and advanced up the slight incline of the other side, when all hell broke loose in the form of Heinie machine guns, pinning the first platoon to the ground. The fire was returned immediately by the H Company machine gunners and our riflemen. The H Company boys did an excellent job, knocking out two of the Heinie machine guns. Under the protection of our machine guns, and by order of Lt. Regn, Lt. Berndt started his withdrawal. During this withdrawal, we had one man killed and several casualties. Lt. Berndt did an excellent job executing the withdrawal of his men. After reaching his positions, the Lt. returned with a few men to bring back his casualties. Here Lt. Regn and Lt. Lovett arrived at the scene. Seeing that the litter bearers were hesitant to go out under the heavy machine gun fire, the two lieutenants grabbed a litter and went out into the field to pick up Pvt. Paul Cabiness, who was seriously wounded in the leg. All the wounded were evacuated and the first platoon returned to their original positions.

    Things remained quiet until dark that night. Just at dark, as we were preparing to send out a reconnaissance patrol, consisting of two men from the intelligence and one from the engineers, an enemy patrol was discovered just across the hedgerow from our first platoon. An exchange of hand grenades and small arms took place. Pfc. Gula was the first to spot the patrol, and he immediately gave the warning to the remainder of the platoon by dropping a hand grenade in the midst of the Heinies. Like a flash the whole platoon was on the alert. The Jerries were throwing "potato mashers" and firing their Schmeizers. All of a sudden there was a lull in the battle. All of our boys were waiting tensely, with their weapon in one hand and a hand grenade in the other. As T/Sgt Lutgens and Pfc Bud Johnson stood side by side in a gap in the hedgerow, a Heinie loomed up only a few feet in front of the muzzles of their rifles. Johnson, armed with a BAR, let the Heinie have a full magazine from his weapon. The Kraut fell to the ground firing his Schmeizer and moaning that well-known word "comrade." With the reply "Comrade my ass, you son of a bitch," Johnson loaded a new magazine in his BAR, and firing the full magazine with one burst, he laid the Kraut to rest. Johnson later claimed that the Heinie’s moans got on his nerves.

    The fire continued sporadically all night.

    About 0400 on the morning of July 16th, digging was heard only a few yards away in front of the first platoon positions. This puzzled everyone. As dawn broke, each man was tense, wondering about the next move of the Germans. To their surprise, five Krauts rose from the holes they had dug, with their hands high in the air, callling "Comrade." The results of the battle were ten of the enemy killed and five captured, out of a patrol of 15 men. We suffered no casualties from the night’s battle, and the first platoon not only won a tactical battle, but a morale victory.

    The day was spent putting out trip wires and flares, and other measures to prevent enemy patrolling. Our efforts were in vain, as no enemy patrols wished to venture near our positions during the night.

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