During the mission of the 2nd Armored Division which was to prevent the Germans to reestablish a line of defense after the Saint-Lô breakthrough, “C” Company of the 702nd Tank Destroyer Battalion was attached to the Combat Command “B”. Precisely, 1st and 2nd Platoons were in support of the full force and the objective was the village of Lengronne by establishing roadblocks on the three roads coming into the village from the north, south and west.
As of the 3rd Platoon, men were attached to the 1st Battalion of the 67th Armored Regiment commanded by Major William P. Ring Jr.
Captain Robert B. Lyon, commanding officer of “C” Company, had the warmest time during the German counterattack which took place at the crossroad of La Pinetière. Men of the platoon destroyed two Mark IV tanks during the night of the 28th to the 29th of July. From La Pinetière, the 1st and 2nd Platoons proceeded on the 29th of July through Saint-Martin-de-Cenilly, thence turning southeast below Saint-Martin-de-Cenilly to Hambye, and then southwest through Saint-Denis-le-Gast toward Lengronne.
After the company passed Saint-Denis-le-Gast on the 29th to reach Lengronne (see map above), orders from Brigadier General Isaac D. White were received. Orders stated that two M10 tank destroyers had to return to Saint-Denis-le-Gast to assist in protecting the town from any German counterattack. One M10 was commanded by Sergeant Kenneth Oxenreider, three other men were Private Wilbur W. Paul, Private Bruno Wadowski and Technical 4 Harold A. Mellon.
All of them with their M10 took position by the cemetery at Saint-Denis-le-Gast, by midnight somebody reported that two German tanks have been seen at the crossroad leading to Lengronne. The M10's party went down the road and found out that the report was false and pulled back to their position (see map below).
In the meantime, the enemy had launched its counterattack against the cemetery which forced the little party to retreat to coordinates 315444. Tank crew stayed at these coordinates for about one half an hour during which they received a lot of mortar fire.
Technical 4 Mellon testified: “We did not see where the other M10 was, but knew we were in a pretty hot spot and it got even more uncomfortable when the enemy infantry started to overrun our positions. Then a mortar made a direct hit on the rear of our M10. The hit knocked out one motor, tearing a hole through the rear idler, bent up the bogy, chopped up the track, tore up the radiator and punctured the oil pan.
So, we had only one motor, and that without either oil or water. In this condition, we cranked up the motor and decided it would be best to try and make our way back to the rest of the company around Lengronne. Some lieutenant tried out to get us to go up toward the cemetery again, but we had better ideas. The mortar shell caused no casualties among our personnel, but Private Wadowski had a slight bullet wound incurred earlier in the evening when the German infantry started to come through. We started down the road toward Lengronne, but the motor without oil and water got hotter and hotter, and our M10 was pretty difficult to steer. Finally, we had to pull off to the right of the road about 100 yards east of the command post of the 78th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. Our left track was still on the road”.
Being successful to brake the encirclment of the Roncey Pocket at Saint-Denis-le-Gast, Gemans have drawn this arrow to indicate the direction of Gavray, to the south and thus cross the river. Thanks to a telephone pole, this symbol will survive the weather conditions.
Around 0225am, the crew called Captain Lyon to let him know that they have been knocked out and replied “Stay there until morning, you’re in safe territory”. But five minutes after, German tanks were spotted from the west of the village, Sergeant Oxenreider got up and grabbed the 50mm caliber gun but he was restrained by his men. They didn’t want to be spotted by the enemy column.
Stuart Tank of Sergeant Charles D. Tanner and Technical 5 Frank J. Arzich in Saint-Denis-le-Gast, both KIA on July 30th, 1944. ©Combatreels.com
Technical 4 Mollen: “After the entire column had passed our position, we could hear the start of the commotion up ahead as the 78th Armored Field Artillery Battalion began to challenge the lead vehicle. The last vehicle was only 20-25 yards ahead of us. A minute or two later, a 50mm caliber from the 78th’s half-track started firing at the German column. Immediately, Corporal O’Malley traversed our 3-inch gun around to the left and lowered it for direct fire on the last vehicle in the line, which was a big personnel carrier with a load of German infantry.
I could observe through the hatch, and yelled: “Throw a round in and let them have it”. Private Wadowski loaded the gun at once, and as the breechblock slammed, the German infantry in the personnel carrier started to catch on and yelled ‘Kamerad, Kamerad’. We just commenced firing, but they didn’t fire back, just continued to yell ‘Kamerad.
The first round ignited the personnel carrier, and then we started to fire up the column. We fired a total of twenty-eight rounds up the column. When the 78th Armored Field Artillery Battalion started leveling their M7’s for direct fire from the front of the column, the fire was coming in our direction and we had to dismount and move off the road to the north. We gave Private Wadowski first aid, but none of the rest of the crew was hurt.
Captain Lyon states that although there is a great deal of dispute as to who was responsible for destroying the German column, the next day he found unmistakable penetrations by the 3-inch gun in the rear of nine trucks, self-propelled guns and armored vehicles”.
Saint-Denis-le-Gast after the battle on July 30th,1944.©Combatreels.com
Written by Pierre Fallet.