The Division landed on Omaha Beach on June 23rd and 24th,
1944, two and one-half weeks after D-Day. We were transported
from Southampton on LST's (Landing Ship Tank). These ships would
partially ground themselves on the beach. The bow would open
and vehicles could be driven off into shallow water. We then
drove from the beach up roads leading to our assembly area two
to three miles inland. The American beach head at that time was
not very deep. The beach was still receiving sporadic artillery
fire. We reorganized in the assembly areas, removed the waterproofing
from our vehicles, and waited for our first combat action.
We did not have to wait long. On June 29th, CCA (Combat Command
A) of the Division was committed in an attack to take out a German
salient in our lines near the town of Villiers-Fossard, three
or four miles north of St. Lo. This part of Normandy is the bocage
country -- apple orchards, dairy cattle, small fields with high
earthen hedgerows, and sunken roads -- a terrain which favored
the defense because tanks have very limited mobility. German
infantry could get good defensive position with overhead cover
from artillery air bursts by digging into the hedgerows. Due
to the nature of the terrain, there is very limited visibility,
which made it difficult for an observer to adjust artillery fire.
It was also very difficult for an infantry company commander
on the attack to know the location of his platoons.
The attack jumped off in time at 0900, Combat Command A with
two task forces abreast. Each task force had a 105 mm self-propelled
artillery battalion in direct support. I was running the Division
Artillery Fire Direction Center and had three more 3rd Armored
Artillery Battalions in general support under my control as well
as a call on battalions of XIX Corps Artillery.
We had worked together as a team for two and one-half years
but this was the first combat action. Things went relatively
smoothly at first. However, because of the terrain and a profusion
of vegetation it was almost impossible to know the exact location
of some of our units. One of the duties of a forward observer
is to keep his fire direction center informed of the location
of his supported leading elements. This information, which is
vital for the safety of the command, is then relayed to the Division
Artillery Fire Direction Center.
Our leading element reports were not too good for several
reasons. First, in this compartmented terrain it was sometimes
impossible to see them, and even if one did, to get a correct
map reference. Normally, map coordinates for enemy positions
and for adjusting fire are given by radio in the clear. Map coordinates
for friendly forces are given using a simple map code. The reporting
of leading elements was a low priority when you were getting
shot at, when you didn't know for sure where the friendly's were,
and when these dubious results had to be encoded.
The Division Commander, Major General Leroy Watson and Division
Artillery Commander, Colonel Fredric J. Brown, had an O.P. (Observation
Post) on a small hill where they could observe the action. I
had a telephone line to them.
In mid-afternoon, CCA was hit with a major tank infantry counterattack.
We learned later that the counterattack was mounted by elements
of Panzer Lehr Division, (one of the best Divisions the Germans
had in Normandy). One of the direct support battalions requested
a T.O.T. laid down just in front of their leading elements. T.O.T.
(Time on Target) is an artillery concentration fired so that
the first volley of maybe 100 guns bursts on the target at the
same time. This technique is most effective.
The officer firing the concentration will synchronize the
watches of the other fire direction centers. Example: Time now
is 16:45 - T.O.T. 16:55. Knowing the time of flight of the projectile
to the target, the Battalion would fire at 16:52:30.
In spite of not having the most accurate front-line reports,
I believed that it would be safe to shoot. I arranged for all
five 3rd Armored Division Battalions to fire, plus five Battalions
from XIX Corps, approximately 150 guns, everything from 105mm
to 240mm. The light Battalions were to fire closer to our lines,
the heavier Battalions, deeper. I assigned concentration areas
to each Battalion by map coordinates. A Battalion concentration
will cover an area of 300 to 400 yards in diameter so a ten Battalion
T.O.T. would cover an area about the size of a country club golf
course, like Onwentsia, for example.
I called Colonel Brown on the telephone and told him that
it was close to our front lines but that I thought it would be
safe to shoot. He said, "Bill, you have to shoot it!"
Ten Battalions, 10 volleys hit the counterattack with devastating
effect -- 1500 artillery rounds exploding in less than 5 minutes.
The attack stopped but was not broken. Even before we had ceased
firing we got reports of short rounds. One battery out of the
30 firing made an error of 1000 yards and was shooting into an
Engineer company in reserve causing some casualties.
Normally with short rounds you call a cease-fire and have
every fire direction center and battery check their data. With
this many Battalions involved and with rather cumbersome communication,
it could be 30 to 45 minutes before we could resume firing.
The attack was stopped but not broken. The German troops were
reorganizing to press home their attack. I had a terrible decision
to make. If I ordered a cease-fire, the Third Armored Division,
and part of XIX Corps, would be without Artillery support for
a very critical 30 to 45 minutes. The veteran German troops could
very well have overrun our leading formations in their first
combat action and caused severe casualties.
If I ordered the concentration fired again, I would cause
more American casualties. I really had no choice, however. I
ordered the T.O.T. retried, and the same battery fired short
again causing additional American casualties. The counterattack
was broken, but I still agonize over this decision.
We had been playing at war as a unit for the last 2 and 1/2
years with maneuvers, firing practices, command-post exercises,
etc., but the real thing is very different.
First, the sounds -- you begin to learn very quickly the difference
in sound between an incoming artillery shell and an outgoing
one. You can pretty well tell also by the scream of one coming
in how close it is going to be. You can tell the difference for
example between the conventional howitzer-type weapon and the
high velocity gun such as the 88mm. This would typically be a
crack-bang. The German small arms made a different sound than
the American. The Schmeisser (burp-gun) machine pistol and the
German MG42 had much higher cyclic rates (rounds per minute)
than did the American weapons.
Then you had the smells of cordite from the explosions, and
from death. This was summer and even on the Atlantic Coast it
got reasonably hot during the day. The medics and grave registration
people were pretty good about picking up American and German
dead. Normandy is dairy cattle country and the bombing and shelling
killed hundreds of cattle. After a few days in the sun, they
began to bloat and stink. Eventually the engineers would bulldoze
mass graves for the dead cattle.
When we came into Normandy there was some concern that the
Germans would use poison gas. We had gas masks and wore coveralls
that were treated to withstand the so-called blister gases. When
the gas threat never materialized, people become more lax about
carrying their gas masks and usually left them in their vehicles.
One evening a German shell hit an American supply dump. It started
a big fire and a worse odor. Some idiot thought we were under
a gas attack. He yelled, "Gas". This call went over
the whole front and everyone went running for their mask. Mine
was in my vehicle, 100 yards away; it is impossible to run that
far without taking a breath. I tried.
The action at Villiers-Fossard was successfully concluded
with the elimination of the German salient in our lines. Elements
of the Division were committed to further action a few miles
to the west. This was part of the First Army's continuing efforts
to fight its way through the bocage country, seize the important
road and rail junction, the town of St. Lo, and get favorable
terrain for a breakout.
[Web Editor's Note: This is the piece identified in Dugan's
manuscript as "A chapter in 'A Guided Tour' by William J.
Carney." A search at the Univ. of Illinois Archives in 2005,
as well as in Dugan's own files, has failed to locate Carney's
'A Guided Tour.' Hopefully his family will see this note, and
will know the whereabouts of any additional writings by Carney,
whose clear and informative style on the subject of artillery
is a rarity.]