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Two Bridges Too Far: Task Force Miller and Dutch Cota

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As part of my research into my le Carillon opus, I was digging backwards into the chronology of 175th Infantry, 29th ID (the first US outfit to capture, then lose, La Meauffe in June).

And I ran across the following gem, proving that history can provide dramas equal to the imagination of any modern day gamer. This story has it all: ill-conceived and botched plan resulting in small bands of hard-fighting GIs cut off behind enemy lines, counterattacked by panzer forces and calling in battleship guns, dense bocage, cigar-chomping general with tommy gun, desperate relief action personally led by regimental commander (who then went MIA).

Actually, screw CMBN, somebody call Hollywood.

My dance card is full right now with the oh-so-conventional Le Carillon sequence, but someone really should do this one.

Here's the dry high level day by day, from the XIX Corps Chronology

June 7, 1944, D plus 1, the 175th Infantry landed on Omaha Beach

8 June. Fierce fight for Isigny

9 June. Capture of Lison 1800

10 June.Consolidate defensive positions around Lison

11 June. Active patrolling by all units

12 June. At 0645 a task force under Major Miller, 1st Bn XO, crossed the Vire River with their mission of securing crossing of the Vire et Taute canal against use by panzer units moving against our right.

Company “E” after suffering heaving casualties, withdrew across the river.

Company “C” with Major Miller and Brigadier General Cota (asst div commander), pushed through the village and occupied the high ground south of Montmartin en Graignes.

At 2200 Colonel Goode, the Regimental Commander, assumed command of Company “G” and crossed the Vire.

13 June. At 1205, 13 June, Company “G” recrossed the River Vire, having run into stiff enemy opposition. Colonel Goode was missing, having been wounded or killed in this action.

Rations and ammunition were dropped to the task force from the air. An enemy Panzer Division was reported to be approaching. The battleship Texas shelled the town with its 16-inch batteries, without hitting the task force.

The morning of 14 June, the Division Commander ordered the task force to with-draw across the River Vire and rejoins the regiment. They fought their way back to the river and returned late that night.

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So that got my interest piqued. And sure enough, from Balkoski, "Beyond the Beachhead: the 29th ID in Normandy"

General Bradley was deeply concerned about the situation west of the Vire.... An American intelligence report warned that a major enemy force was preparing to counterattack the west side of the Vire to sever the tie between the two beachheads. Bradley had no troops to spare to block such a counterattack, so the 175th was ordered to send a force to the west side of the Vire on June 12. The mission, officially designated a "reconnaisance in force" was to discover what the Germans were up to and, more important, to seize two key bridges over a [Vire et Taute] canal that the expected German counterattack would have to cross.

Goode wanted the two companies to cross the Vire under cover of darkness. At 0400 on June 12 however... Companies C and E were still far from their assigned crossing sites... the [Company C] CO explained that he hadn't even heard about the mission until after midnight.... the sun had risen by the time the two companies reached the Vire.

... sixteen rubber assault boats - 8 for each company. Each boat could carry ten men. Company E was to cross the river 2-1/2 miles southwest of Isigny, just south of the St Lo-Cherbourg railway bridge. Company C was to cross a mile upstream....

As the 29ers paddled across the river, a few machine guns opened up at long range, but they were aimed too high. The Yanks were actually safer in the river than anywhere else, since both banks were lined with twelve foot dikes.... Cota accompanied Company E across the river. "It [the plan] didn't smell right from the first, and I thought maybe I could help if they got in a jam", Cota remembered.

... The day was hot and several 29ers became ill-tempered.... Cota realized that Montmartin [the rendezvous point] was occupied by the enemy, for Company E took heavy fire as it approached the town from the northeast.

But the bridges -- not the town -- were the mission objectives, so Cota decided to bypass Montmartin on the north. The change of plan could not be passed on to Company C however, since the radios had gotten soaked in the crossing and were not working.

... Cota and Company E marched straight into a trap. 500 yards northwest of Montmartin, the 29ers were filing down a narrow dirt road, bordered on both sides by hedgerows as tall as a man, when a couple of German submachine guns suddenly opened up on the head of the column at pointblank range....

The Germans were on the other side of the hedgerows, pushing their submachine guns over the embankments without even looking and firing long bursts down the road... Only a handful of the enemy had scattered an entire company. Only 30 men remained with Cota. The rest had disappeared into the bocage. "What is this? 'Cota's Last Stand?'" Cota demanded of [Lt] Shea....

Like vultures circling a dying man, they surrounded Cota's party and called upon the Americans to surrender. One 29er answered by blasting an enemy-occupied hedgerow with a full clip from his BAR. "Blow it out your ass!" he shouted.

One of Cota's men peered over the hedgerow and detected an odd-looking cow in an adjacent field. "One of those dumb bastards is trying to hide behind that cow!" the 29er yelled. "Look at those boots!" A fusillade killed the German, and the cow -- but a sergeant scolded the men for wasting ammunition. "You don't have to bury 'em with lead," he said.

For the rest, read the book (I've ordered a copy to atone for my minor copyright infringement -- fair use).

Like I said, you can't make this stuff up!

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