NINTH UNITED STATES ARMY

 

1 - 30 SEPTEMBER 1944

 

The Ninth United States Army, commanded by Lieutenant General William H. Simpson, assumed its initial operation role on 5 September 1944. This Army, the fourth United States army to operate in the European Theater of Operations, had arrived on Utah Beach on the Cherbourg Peninsula with an army headquarters only; none of the previously assigned combat units preceded the arrival of the headquarters on 27 August.  

 

The Army headquarters, formerly designated as the Fourth United States Army and later the Eighth United States Army, had been alerted for movement to the European Theater of Operations on 11 April 1944. It had proceeded to England in June, where headquarters was established at Clifton College, Bristol. The Army's initial mission had been the reception and training of the 94th and 95th Infantry Divisions. Late in August the Army headquarters was alerted for the move to the continent. Personnel and equipment were shipped from Southampton to Utah Beach, and the initial command post was established at St. Saveur Lendelin on 29 August. In anticipation of its operational role, the command post was moved on 3 September to Mi Foret, in the Forest of Rennes, Brittany, France. 

 

The Twelfth Army Group, under which the Army was to operate, issued a letter of instructions to outline the operational mission for the Army on 5 September 1944. It was to take command of the VIII Corps, which had previously been under the Third United States Army. The eastward drive of the main forces of the Third United States Army had left the VIII Corps some 400 miles from the Army headquarters. There were many disadvantages in such a situation, and the newly arrived Ninth United States Army was given this operational corps.

 

The VIII Corps was composed of the 2nd, 8th, 29th, and 83rd Infantry Divisions, and the 6th Armored Division. Its mission had been to reduce the fortress of Brest, contain the enemy at Lorient and St. Nazaire, and protect the south flank of the Third United States Army. The 2nd, 8th, and 29th Infantry Divisions engaged the hostile forces around Brest. The 6th Armored Division contained Lorient, patrolled the Loire River, and east to Redon. The 83rd Infantry Division contained St. Nazaire and patrolled the north bank of the Loire River, including a line from Redon to Oreleans and then east to Montargis.

 

In addition to the VIII Corps, the Army had been assigned the III, XIII, and XVI Corps, the 26th, 44th, 95th, 102nd, and 104th Infantry Divisions, and the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions. A large number of corps and army supporting troops were included. The III Corps had begun to assemble in Normandy.

 

The Ninth United States Army had two missions. The first was operational and called for an attack against Brest, a containing action against the ports. The second mission was administrative, to receive the newly assigned troops and prepare them for operational missions. Later in the month a third mission was assigned. This was to use certain of its combat troops as trucking companies to help solve the problem of supplying the fast-driving forces of the First and Third United States armies.

 

VIII Corps continued the Brest campaign. The 6th Armored Division and the 83rd Infantry Division were detached from the VIII Corps on 9 September, and were used directly as Army troops in the mission at St. Nazaire, Lorient, and along the Loire. The newly arrived III Corps was charged with training all troops arriving on the Normandy beaches from the United Kingdom and the United States, and elements of the 26th, 95th, 102nd and 104th Infantry Divisions assumed the role of provisional trucking companies. These companies were attached to the Communication Zone for the operation of Red Ball supply routes supporting the operations of the First and Third United States armies. 

 

A shortage of infantry personnel was a problem faced by many of the combat units during this period. They had a divisional overstrength as a whole, but they were short infantry combat troops. This situation had arisen from the fact that the divisions had come to the continent overstrength on D-Day. Their casualties had been mostly in rifle troops, and, even when wounded men had been returned to duty, they were not fit for line service. Permission was granted for organizations which had been overstrength on D-Day to requisition infantry personnel up to authorized infantry table of organization strength regardless of overall overstrength. Army consolidated the requisitions submitted from lower units and drew men from the 48th Replacement Battalion. The flow took approximately six days.

 

Ninth United States Army used the facilities of the Brittany Base Section, Communication Zone, for the processing of prisoners of war. The enclosures at Rennes and Orleans handled the normal flow, but the Loire Base Section was used to process the 20.000 prisoners taken in that area. During the month of September a total of 50.866 prisoners of war was processed.

 

The Army's location within the Communication Zone placed it in an unorthodox position as to normal supply procedures and logistics. It was confined within the limits of the Communication Zone but the mission of its operational units to protect the Twelfth Army Group's southern flank along the Loire River, caused Army's communication to fan outward in every direction in a 400 mile radius. At the start of the period the Signal Service did not have access to adequate fixed facilities, nor was it on an axis of communications. Repair of 70 miles of eight pair German cable and 100 miles of six pair French cable brought alleviation of this problem. The supply installations already operated by Communication Zone rendered invaluable assistance. However, the responsibility for hauling supplies from the beaches to the using units caused an intermingling of responsibility. Communication Zone, Army, and VIII Corps all found themselves handling supplies in the same area.

 

The chief problems during the month were the supply of artillery ammunition and the transportation of replacements and units. Ninth U.S. Army's Movement and Traffic Section operated in coordination with the Traffic Section of the Base Section to solve these problems. Few of the newly arrived units could e equipped because the trucking demands for Red Ball and the priority supply of battle losses on the eastern front precluded any attempt at a schedule. Detailed advance planning for movement of units was limited by lack of information as to the future area of operations, missions, or assignment of troops to the Army. 

 

OPERATIONS

 

The fifth of September found the VIII Corps troops in the twelfth day of concerted attempt to reduce the fortress and seaport of Brest. This city on the extremity of the Brittany Peninsula had been the largest French naval base in Northern France and was used as a U-boat base during the German's four year occupation. The excellent deep-water roadstead which made it the largest landlocked harbor in Europe was vitally needed by the Allies. The winter storms were forthcoming and landing beaches already held were thought to be inadequate for the large supply job that was to come. 

 

The VIII Corps had found that the reduction of Brest was no mere side affair but a major drive against an under-rated force. Intelligence sources had indicated a possible strength of twenty thousand men in the Brest area. The campaign was expected to reduce hostile resistance in ten days. Both of these calculations proved wrong, and the southern drive of three infantry divisions in an arc around the city had slowed down almost to a standstill. The strongly prepared positions and hedgerow terrain proved difficult but the lack of ammunition, especially of the larger caliber, and the strength of the enemy forces which reached to about 44.000 were the primary factors in the prolongation of the campaign.

 

To alleviate the supply of artillery ammunition, Communication Zone ordered a diversion of ammunition to Morlaix and St. Michel en Greve on LST's. This ammunition supply began to arrive on the 6th and the balance on the 7th brought sufficient ammunition for a renewed attack against Brest. Plans were consequently laid for "H" hour at 1000B on 8 September. Supply rolled in at such a rate that there was more ammunition than was needed to complete the campaign. Shipments were canceled and diverted as the Brest campaign drew to a close but 11.000 tons in ammunition depot and 12.000 tons on the beach were available to the Army at the time of surrender. Ammunition companies subsequently moved to the east with as much surplus ammunition as could be carried by five provisional truck companies formed from Field Artillery units. 

 

Outside the Brest area, scattered pockets of enemy resistance existed along the Atlantic coast to St. Nazaire. These groups were composed of static coastal garrisons reinforced by remnants of German field forces which had escaped to the south and west after the break-through in the Contentin Penisuala. The patrol thrown across the heart of France along the Loire River likewise contained an undetermined number of German forces.

 

In the early morning of 9 September, Generalmajor Botho Elster, commanding one of these forces, was reported by the 83rd Infantry Division to desire the surrender of his command, estimated to contain about 19.500 troops. This force was disposed in the area Chateaurou, Chateauneuf sur Cher, and Sancoin and had found itself cut off from all possible escape routes. Although fear of the FFI and the Maquis was apparent as one motive for the General's decision, our overwhelming air superiority in the area which threatened ceaseless bombing and strafing of his troops was the main reason. The desired surrender meeting was arranged and plans were coordinated between the Ninth United States Army, Twelfth Army Group, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, and the 83rd Infantry Division. The German troops were marched under arms as far as the cities of Beaugency and Orleans with air support hovering close by at all times to keep them steadfast in purpose. On the south bank of the Loire River they were relieved of their arms at a formal surrender and entered the prisoner of war enclosure near Beaugency.

 

The two Atlantic seaports of Lorient and St. Nazaire were roughly estimated to contain troops numbering from 20.000 to 25.000 men. The 6th Armored Division had contained the enemy in Lorient and pattrolled to Redon. The 83rd Infantry Division had contained the area around St. Nazaire, and had extended patrols along the Loire to Orleans. In the middle of September, the 94th Infantry Division became operational and was sent to relieve the 6th Armored Division. On 16 September the relief was completed and the 6th Armored Division was released to the control of the Third United States Army. Later in the month the 94th extended its patrol lines into the 83rd Infantry Division's sector and on 23 September, the latter organization returned to the Third United States Army. Higher headquarters prescribed that no assault would be made on Lorient or St. Nazaire. The zone of patrolling was extended to include the entire southern boundary of the Twelfth Army Group, and the protective mission on the south flank extended to Auxerre on the Yonne River. The 15th Cavalry Group was attached to the 94th Infantry Division to patrol from Nantes to Auxerre, but without the active support of the FFI troops, such an extensive area could not have been adequately protected. FFI groups were used both at St. Nazaire and Lorient in the line alongside the American troops, and their numbers released other American units for the fight to the east. 

 

By 10 September in the arc around Brest the 8th Infantry Division in the center had inched down to the old city wall and the 2nd Infantry Division in the left of the arc had forced its way in street to street fighting through the outskirts of the town and up to the wall. On the right flank the 29th Infantry Division had cleared Le Coquet Peninsula on the right and was assaulting the main forts which protected Recouvrance, the companion city of Brest. It was necessary to reinforce Task Force "A", which had contained an estimated enemy force of 8.000 men on the Crozon Peninsula, with an infantry division. The 8th Infantry Division was pinched out of the Brest assault and was moved to the Crozon.

 

Major General Troy H. Middleton, Commanding General of the VIII Corps, sent his G-2 as parlementaire to the Commanding General of the Brest Defenses, Major General Hermann B. Ramcke and asked for the surrender of Brest on 13 September. He outlined the position as hopeless and as a professional soldier he urged Ramcke to consider his proposal. Ramcke replied with the terse remark, "I must decline your proposal". Whereupon General Middleton gave a directive to his forces to make Ramcke "sorry for his refusal and to enter the fray with renewed vigor - let's take them apart and get the job finished."

 

The air missions by units of the XIX Tactical Air Command, and a terrific artillery barrage of continuous 24 hour harassing fire reduced the city to ruins in accordance with his directive and paved the way for the final assault and conquest of Brest on 18 September. The Crozon defenses crumbled under the infantry assault and General Ramcke surrendered on 19 September to bring to a close the twenty0five day siege. Three first-rate units of the German Army, the 2nd Paratroop Division, the 343rd Infantry, and the 266th Infantry Division were destroyed. Some 38.000 prisoners of war were captured, of which more than 20.000 were combat troops. The destruction of the city was complete; what had been started by the Germans was finished by the siege operations. American air and artillery, plus the use of white phosphorous and jelled gasoline, had burned and gutted the downtown section of Brest and the naval base at Recouvrance.

 

American casualties totaled 9.831 for the campaign. Medical personnel did an outstanding job of evacuation of the American and German wounded. The 666th Medical Clearing Company evacuated 6.114 patients in the period from 28 August to 28 September. Also in that period, the 29th Field Hospital evacuated by air and LST a total of 3.747. The air evacuees flew from the Morlaix Air Strip and the LST patients were loaded at St. Michel en Greve. Two hundred and eight patients were evacuated by train on 19 September from the Army Evacuation Hospital. The final capitulation caused a terrific pressure on evacuation plans. The VIII Corps Surgeon reported a total of 5.500 prisoners of war casualties in Brest, most of whom were ambulatory. After minor treatment, those in the latter group were able to proceed directly to the prisoner of war enclosure.

 

After the successful conclusion of the Brest Operation, the 29th Infantry Division was released to the First United States Army on 24 September. The VIII Corps, with the 2nd and 8th Infantry Divisions, was ordered east to the Third United States Army's zone for contemplated operations in that area by the Ninth United States Army. Twelfth Army Group had indicated by their letter of Instructions, Number 9, 25 September, that the Ninth United States Army was to carry out a mission in a zone of action on the eastern front between the First and Third United States Armies. The forward command post was opened at Arlon, Belgium on 29 September and Signal Service had to maintain a daily 500 motor messenger service between the forward and rear echelons.

 

At the close of the period the VIII Corps with the 2nd and 8th Infantry Divisions was engaged in operations in the assigned zone and the 94th Infantry Division held the ports of Lorient and St. Nazaire and secured the southern boundary of Twelfth Army Group. The non-operational units assigned to the army included at the close of the period, III Corps, XIII Corps, XVI Corps, XXI Corps, 44th, 84th, 95th, 99th, 102nd and 104th Infantry Divisions and the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Armored Divisions.

 

 

 

Copyright 2008, xixcorps.nl. All Rights Reserved