After having left Fortress Cherbourg, the third and last Regiment of the 79th Infantry division, the 315th Infantry Regiment reached the village of Fierville-les-Mines.
There was no need to tell the men that they were about to launch a new offensive in direction of the South of the Manche country.
On the 1st of July 1944, the 315th’s CP was set up at coordinates 099968 near Fierville-les-Mines, new fresh soldiers arrived to replace the fallen, Killed or Wounded in Action during the Cherbourg Campaign.
Men were about to relieve some units of the 90th Infantry Division in the vicinity of Saint-Lô-d’Ourville. There, three US Divisions were composing the frontline in the area.
The 79th Infantry Division on the extreme West (313th, 314th and 315th Infantry Regiments were holding a line running from coordinates 097886 – 117896 – 130894 – 150910 – 183911)
The 82nd Airborne Division on the East
The 90th Infantry Division still at the East but further
Many patrols were sent to reconnoiter, each day more and more units were attached to the Regiment as the 749th Tank Battalion, the 813th Tank Destroyers Battalion and the 463rd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion.
On the 2nd of July 1944, the Regiment was once again complete. Each Company re-found its strength and orders were received. The 315th Infantry Regiment was given the mission to seize Hill 30.
If the 315th Infantry Regiment’s men succeeded in taking Hill 30 and another Hill at the South of La Haye-du-Puits, the Germans would be forced to withdraw to their next line of defense, which at the time was Lessay famous for its Sainte-Croix Fair taking place every september gathering farmers, breeders etc... to trade since William the Conqueror!
Note: the 315th’s Command Post was moved to coordinates 093923, near Le Haut de Gris (between D-264. /D-366).
The 79th Infantry Division’s Headquarters was counting on a rapid attack so men were ordered to spread as quickly as possible. But many of them found themselves lost and were reported as Missing in Action before reappearing some days later!
En route to assault Hill 30, the 2nd Battalion took several enemy as Prisoners of war (Germans, Austrians and Czechs) while “G” Company received a heavy artillery fire on its way to Hill 30.
Germans were answering back to the terrific artillery fire made by the American Army in celebration of the 4th of July! Boys of the 2nd Battalion succeeded to seize Hill 30 but paid the high price of losing many of its men.
Note: Along the road Saint-Lô-d’Ourville – Denneville, heavy fightings were taking place for four days until the 7th of July 1944.
According to the men of the 315th, Montgardon church’s steeple will go down in history as one of the most famous enemy Observation Point of the war. It was from there that Germans were directing their artillery fire when their brothers of the 314th Infantry Regiment were assaulting Hill 84.
Men compared the bloody fightings of Hill 84 as the one encountered in Tunisia for Hill 609.
From the 3rd to the 11th of July 1944, the Regiment encountered many casualties, men enlisted in the Regiment since the beginning were WIA or KIA.
Wounded were shipped to England to recover as quickly as possible. The work of the 315th Infantry Regiment’s Medical Aid and Officers made around La Haye-du-Puits was according to soldiers, excellent. They can be proud of their work and duty for saving their boys and assumed command under a terrific German artillery fire.
Through the 313th and 314th Infantry Regiments ‘s story you have discovered that tanks were used but not at the beginning of the battle. Do you know why? Simple, the landscape was full of hedgerows! German artillery fire was extremely precise and dangerous and to make matters worse, the rain combined to the hedgerows and mud would have made the use of tanks difficult or impossible.
The 315th Infantry Regiment was ordered to pass by the West in an attempt to encircle the town of La Haye-du-Puits and to meet the 313th and 314th Infantry Regiments at the South.
The 315th Infantry Regiment commanded by Colonel Bernard B. McMahon went toward the village of Montgardon (Southwest of La Haye-du-Puits). On their way to battle, several German soldiers were captured, some of them revealed they had only been in the locality of La Haye-du-Puits for a day or two.
German High Command had ordered them to leave their assembly area wherever they were in France to head toward the Normandy frontlines. Many of them were based in Brest (Brittany) or Paris and arrived on foot ( around 223 miles)
At this time, men who were wearing Wehrmacht uniforms were not Russians or Czech but true Germans. Many of prisoners told the 315th boys that a counterattack was scheduled on the morning of the 8th of July 1944.
Fightings around Hill 84 were costly in men and ammunitions! To make matters worse, it was discovered that they were dealing with the 3rd Infantry Regiment of the infamous 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich" and the 70th Company of the 1st Paratrooper Regiment.
Finally the German counterattack was postponed. Why? During an attack on Hill 84, men from the 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich" were made prisoners, many of them reported they had been brought up onto the frontlines for a counterattack. They also reported that both banks of the Ay River were mined and they were moving their Artillery once guns were discovered.
Note: German forces had pulled up South of the Ay River with their Artillery and their counterattack began on July 10th 1944 at 1106 hours.
The 315th Infantry Regiment’s boys knew Germans were running out of gas because guns were pulled by horses. They were told by locals that Germans were planning to schedule another counterattack on Hills around the city to definitely control Montgardon. The enemy knew that if Montgardon fell under American control, La Haye-du-Puits would be definitely lost.
The situation was slightly in favor of the US Troops but it could have changed at any moment!
Casualties were still high. In one day the Regiment suffered 73 casualties (6 Officers and 67 enlisted men).
Fighting for Hill 84 ended on July 11th 1944 at 0206 hours when the 2nd Battalion’s commander reported to occupy it once and for all.
From Montgardon, the 315th Infantry Regiment moved down the highway of La Haye-du-Puits toward Lessay in the vicinity of Angoville-sur-Ay at the North of the Ay River.
Hill 84 might be under control, there remained one German strongpoint at L’Orguillet (D-529), a hamlet part of Bretteville-sur-Ay.
This information given by the Reconnaissance Troop stated that the enemy strongpoint had dug in tunnels, dug in emplacements and an unknown number of soldiers. To seize and destroy it, the 2nd Battalion of the 315th sent some combat patrols to Hameau Biémont (D-136) and La Traverserie (D-136E1)at the East.
Their mission? Clean out all areas around this strongpoint to isolate it and to make it vulnerable.
Orders said: “All trees, all hedgerows, and fields must be searched as well as German patrols to determine what frontal resistance there might be, and if it's to be found that there were only small pockets of enemy, a small Task Force will be used to wipe them out.”
Note: Interrogation from Germans prisoners and French civilians indicated that there was just a little resistance left in the area. The rest of the force has been pulled out.
During all the day of the 13th of July 1944, men were resupplied and reequipped as their morale were extremely low due to the heavy casualties encountered. Men could enjoy the relaxing feeling of taking a shower and reading their mails.
Note: Division CP was located in a Castle at coordinates 149855 in the vicinity of Bolleville. 159 replacements were assigned to the respective units.
The real first contact with large scale minefields was made there. Germans had dug in various kind of mines everywhere along the road. Despite the work accomplished by the Engineers, casualties were inevitable especially when night patrols were sent out.
Many civilians living in the country went to Lessay before the American’s arrival to gather information on the situation in town. Those civilians gave all kind of details such as to the number of Germans in positions, the number of guns etc.
The CP was set up in the church steeple of Vesly (D-142), offering the possibility for the 315th to visualize the towns of Créances, Lessay and hills across the river.
On the 15th of July 1944, Division Headquarter ordered the Regiment to send one patrol on the East of Lessay and another one at the West to reconnoiter the area and to come back with information’s about German strength but to not cross the 75-grid line because of the division and Corps interdictory fire.
Men from patrols ran into various minefields which were especially disposed on crossroads. Staff Sergeant Joseph A. Poulin “A” Company of 1st Battalion, after crossing a minefield and after being targeted by machine gun nests reported that several men considered as Missing in Action after the battle for Hill 84 were prisoners but healthy.
During the night of July 16th, 1944, patrols could hear the sound of Armored vehicles, and footsteps, indeed Germans were withdrawing further South
Note: Germans left Créances (famous for its sand carrots!) and Pirou (A famous legend of Normandy originates in the castle at Pirou. Besieged by the Vikings Normans, the Lord of Pirou and his family transformed themselves into geese, using an old wizard's book, in order to escape during the assault. When the geese returned, they tried to read the reverse spell to recover their human shapes, they realized that the wizard's book had been burnt with the castle, set on fire by the Vikings Normans. This is why wild geese stop in the Cotentin each year in March, during their annual migration) leaving behind them Russians fighting in the Third Reich’s ranks.
Only the 315th Infantry Regiment was onto frontlines. The 313th and 314th were in reserve at their bivouacking areas.
This Russian force caused many troubles while a patrol from 2nd Battalion was trying to cross the Ay river at Fierville (D-650) at the West of Lessay. Russian soldiers were firing at them with machine guns forcing the 2nd Battalion to withdraw. Boys of the Battalion pulled back and attempted to cross 200 yards farther down the river.
While men were trying to cross the Ay river for the second time, they heard noise of enemy wagons and movements which was getting closer and closer. “E” Company reported on its way back to its CP that the enemy on the other bank of the Ay river left the area but some groups were still holding their positions, always able to harass them.
Enemy forces were men from the 941st, 942nd and 943rd Infantry Regiment.
Note: By mistake someone from Corp's Headquarter reported that Lessay was already under American control which was not the truth.
On the 18th of July 1944, plans were made for the 79th infantry Division’s actions during Operation Cobra scheduled to be launched 7 days later.
On July 19th, 1944 only two patrols of the 315th Infantry Regiment were able to cross the Ay River and to penetrate enemy territory and gain about 300 yards. In the meantime, heavy fightings were still taking place on a bridge North of Lessay as Germans still wanted to maintain a bridgehead despite their withdrawal.
For the next two days, patrols were again sent out to cross the Ay River, this time two patrols ordered to cross succeeded.
D-Day for Operation Cobra was postponed four times due to bad weather conditions. At first it was to be launched on July 21st then on July 22nd, July 23rd, July 24th and finally on the 25th of July 1944!
These delays allowed the Regiment and Division to send out patrols along the Ay River to silence once and for all the remaining enemy outposts.
While active patrols were still taking place, “B” Company of the 315th Infantry Regiment captured 34 enemy soldiers in an OP at 1300 hours on July 22nd 1944.
Once again two other patrols of the Regiment were able to cross the river on the 24th of July 1944.
The CP was moved on July 25th, 1944 at coordinates 173817 in the vicinity of La Viéville (D-900) in preparation of Operation Cobra.
Operation Cobra - D-Day, 26th of July 1944.
Each Regiment received different orders and objectives:
314th Infantry Regiment was given the mission to follow the 28th Infantry Regiment of the 8th Infantry Division across the Ay River once the 28th secured the high ground southeast of Lessay.
313th Infantry Regiment was to follow the 314th and seize the area South of Lessay.
315th Infantry Regiment was ordered to cross the Ay River at the West of Lessay.
The 1st Battalion of the 315th assembled North of the river in the vicinity of coordinates 206756, ready to cross it and to establish a bridgehead. The 3rd Battalion was to be at the rear of the 1st Battalion as support while the 2nd Battalion continued to outpost the river line.
Note: 121st Cavalry relieved the 3rd Battalion which took over the river defense line up to Fierville.
During the night of the 26th to the 27th of July 1944, the Regiment discovered other extensive minefields along the Ay River, men were ordered to make a stop and to wait for the Engineers!
River banks were cleaned out of mines by 1000 hours, on July 27th 1944. Three hours later, around 1315 hours, the 315th’s Battalions could restart their advance and finally cross, with all elements of the Regiment, the Ay River once and for all to take Lessay.
Note: 1st Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Milton L. Rosen’s command and 2nd Battalion crossed the Ay River near the main highway bridge and started their attack on Lessay at 1830 hours. The 3rd Battalion crossed it at the East of the town and occupied the high ground between Lessay and the 314th Infantry Regiment’s area.
When men were crossing the river, Germans opened fire with their artillery, in the course of the American advance toward the town, artillery fire stopped and small arms fire took over.
By the end of the day, after more or less a week of many attempts to cross the Ay River, the 315th Infantry Regiment reported to have captured the town of Lessay at 2130 hours.
A CP was set up in Lessay but as Germans were on the run, men moved to the village of Le Buisson (D-2) on the road southward towards Coutances.
Note: 3rd Battalion stayed in his area at the southwest, 2nd Battalion moved to a new assembly area near Gaslonde (D-652) after cleaning out Lessay of the remaining Germans.
On the 28th of July 1944, Regiment jumped off at 0615 hours with its 3rd Battalion on the left, 1st Battalion on the right and 2nd Battalion behind the 1st to push further South. It was one of these rare days where men encountered no opposition!
The next day, 29th of July 1944, Regiment was ordered to follow the 6th Armored Division on its final drive to Granville at 2330 hours. A new CP was set up at Boisroger (D-274), North of Saint-Malo-de-la-Lande (D-244).
At the CP, Colonel Bernard B. McMahon was receiving information from a French civilian. While men were talking, a civilian inadvertently threw a grenade wounding Colonel McMahon and other soldiers present. Sadly, a girl who was with them was killed instantly.
The same day, Colonel John A. McAleer took command of the 315th Infantry Regiment and Lieutenant Colonel Rosen became the Executive Officer.
During the day of July 30th 1944, the 315th Infantry Regiment and all elements of the 79th Infantry Division plus attached units continued to advance South, establishing themselves at the East of Coutances in the vicinity of Tourville-sur-Sienne (D-68) and again no German opposition was encountered.
As men were advancing further to the South, main roads, inland roads, fields, villages, hamlets were jammed with German armored vehicles, vehicles, tanks, weapons, trucks, guns, rifles, machine guns, grenades, dead horses.
This was a visual evidence of the dramatic situation in which was the German Army!
Men knew at this moment that it was not just a retreat but the beginning of the German Army’s defeat in Normandy.
Written by Pierre Fallet WWII Trainee of Normandy American Heroes