Archive for the ‘Normandy 1944’ Category

Last week we were excited to hear from yet another Frenchman. Nicolas used to live in Cherbourg and is quite familiar with the city. He wrote to say that he knows the location of one of our photos, taken on July 17, 1944, during the Normandy Campaign.

One of the 111th men took several pictures of Cherbourg that day, and one in particular caught Nicolas’s eye.

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“The location of this picture was easy to find, as there is only one mountain around Cherbourg: La Montagne du Roule,” he wrote. “Plus, my former high school was located a bit further from the house (which I circled in red). I used to walk this very street every morning, and every evening … the sight looked familiar.” Merci beaucoup, Nicolas!

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The day that photo was taken in 1944, some of the unit had left their camp in the Cerisy Forest, Normandy, for a trip that took them through Isigny-sur-Mer, Carentan, St. Mere Eglise, Monteburg and Cherbourg. The Allies had taken Cherbourg, an important port, in late June. Twelve days after their trip, Operation Cobra was launched—the Allied operation to break out of Normandy.

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The men of the 111th landed on Omaha Beach over two days, June 11 and June 12, 1944. Somehow they were able to meet up and begin making their way, with their 80 vehicles, inland.

On June 13, the unit found an orchard and spent the night; the next day they settled on a large wooded area in the forêt de Cerisy, the Cerisy Forest, and set up camp. Lt. Perry Witt said, “After a few nights in the area we were given our baptism of fire from the enemy… I think that I remembered everything wrong that I had ever done and started to pray.” They remained in this general area until early August.

Today the Cerisy Forest is a 5,260-acre nature reserve. Our blog friend and B&B host Michael Doherty has studied the history of the forest during WWII and has found the approximate area (see the red map point) where the 111th camped in 1944, using grid information from the unit’s morning reports. (See the previous posting on this blog for more details.) By the way, if you come to Normandy, be sure to stay at the wonderful B&B Michael and his wife own near the village of Litteau, Le Manoir de Herouville. Michael is also a D-Day guide.

Cerisy location

He took us to the area in the Cerisy Forest on Saturday. We watched while he scanned the forest floor with his metal detector. He hoped to find C ration containers, but that day only a few bullet casings and some odd pieces of what looked to me like automotive parts turned up.

Michael using his metal detector in the Cerisy Forest

Later that day, Ed and I paid a return visit to Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery there, which is located just above the beach where the 111th came ashore.

Omaha Beach

The American Cemetery above Omaha Beach

Michael and Andrea near Cerisy la Foret

On Sunday, Ed and I drove the route of the men after the St. Lo breakthrough, in early August 1944. They headed south to Campeaux, where they stayed for about ten days, and then continued to follow the advancing troops to Vire. They drove 82 miles in one day and set up camp in the town of Mortree, near Falaise, when they began supporting the 90th Infantry Division. We were surprised to realize we were seeing much of what they had seen on their route, because so many structures had survived the war and in fact were already quite old 75 years ago!

They were in Mortree for one week, while the last battle of Normandy took place near Falaise. On August 27, they began their longest journey so far, as their convoy traversed the 113 miles to Saint Remy des Chevreuse, south of Versailles. More about this stop in the next posting.

We ended the day with a return visit to the Abbaye de Cerisy-la-Foret, which we had discovered in 2013 because of a photo taken in 1944 of my father and his buddy, Donald McGowan, in front of the ruins of the abbey.

The church at the Abbaye la Cerisy-la-Foret

Again, we were struck by the simple beauty of this ancient abbey (founded in 1032) and church. Certainly my father and his fellow soldiers had never seen anything quite so old and so lovely. I imagine they might have stopped in to say a prayer.

Nearby is the last area the unit camped, not far from the Cerisy Forest, near the village of Tournieres, which in August 1944 became the temporary location of Gen. Eisenhower’s SHAEF command post. The 111th moved to three open fields here on July 4, where Frank Sossi, the company clerk, wrote that they were much happier here than they had been in the damp forest. The photo of the farm field below may have been one of the fields; Michael will be checking the coordinates given on the unit morning reports for that period and letting us know for sure. Thank you Michael, for all your help! We had a great time with you this past weekend.

Could this be the three fields area where they spent the month of July?

Ed and I will arrive in Normandy later this week to begin the “tracings” part of this blog at long last. We thought that driving the route of the 111th—from Omaha Beach to Brake, Germany—would be a good way to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. We also hope to see some of what the men saw as they made their way through Europe during the final year of their WWII service.

Below are the first two pages of the 111th’s itinerary, as carefully noted by 111th soldier Joe Sedlacek. (Many thanks to his son Tom for sending this to us.) Ed checked it against the unit’s morning reports and found it to be quite accurate, with the exception of several completely understandable misspellings of town names.

Joe Sedlacek

We will begin by spending three nights at the Normandy manoir house B&B of blog friend Michael Doherty. He has located the exact spot where the men camped for several weeks in the summer of 1944 and has promised to take us there. (See the previous blog post on this site.) Michael is a D-Day guide, and we appreciate his interest in our quest during a very busy time for him.

So stay tuned. I hope to make several posts to this blog as we follow the 111th’s convoy through dozens of hamlets and villages and towns over the next two weeks.

 

Several days ago we received an email from an English expat named Michael who had found this blog: “I live next to the Forest de Cerisy in Normandy and have come across foxholes and relics left over from 1944. I did not know anything about the 111th Ordnance Company and assumed those things were from 23nd Infantry Regiment until I found your site.”

We wrote back right away and told him our story. Ed and I had visited the Cerisy Forest back in the fall of 2013, when we began this blog but it is a big place and we had no clue as to exactly where the men had camped for nearly two months. (https://wwiitracings.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/dads-base-in-normandy/)

The 111th had landed on Omaha Beach in two groups, on June 11 and 12, 1944, and the next day traveled 18 or so miles south to the village of La Platiere, near the Cerisy Forest, where they spent the night. The next day they moved to the forest and set up camp. U.S. forces had chased the Germans out of the area only a few days earlier.

On the map below, the 111th’s location, which Michael determined by plotting the coordinates given on the unit’s Morning Reports for that time, is shown by the red marker near the top. The Cerisy Forest is the large green area in the center; the village of La Platiere is marked with the right arrow near the bottom, and Michael’s home is marked by the red arrow, bottom center.

Cerisy location

The Cerisy Forest, and the town of Cerisy-la-Foret, is about 10 miles northeast of St. Lo, which was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing between July 7 and 14, 1944. Also nearby is Hill 192, which the Allies had to take before they could push the Germans out of St. Lo. The men of the 111th were supporting the 2nd Infantry Division forces during this horrific time. Below is one of my father’s photos; the caption is his:

img090 evidence of the price the 2nd div paid for Hill 192 in Normandy

Evidence of the price the 2nd Division paid for Hill 192, Normandy

Here is how Michael became interested in the 111th:

“The reason I have embarked on this journey of research is so this information does not get lost in time. Since moving to Normandy I have so longed for someone to do what you did at Cerisy and turn up out of the blue with a picture of a shot taken in 1944 and say ‘My father was here.’ The Germans occupied our current home, until the Americans pushed them out of the area field by field. It’s very rare to hear of German families doing what families such as yours have done, visiting places where their fathers stayed.

“When I started my research I found a man in the States whose father was with the 9th Infantry Regiment. After landing at Omaha on D+1 it came directly to the forest here at Cerisy. His company passed right by where I now live. His unit’s Morning Reports all mention ‘Herouville’—and my home is Manoir de Herouville. The next few weeks of Morning Reports show his company’s movements, and so far I have tracked each place.

“When the 111th arrived here on June 13, the front line in this area had just reached Litteau, where we live. This is where the Battle of the Hedgerows began. From Cerisy, the town of St George d’elle and Hill 192 were blocking the Allied advance for St. Lo. This area was where the fiercest fighting took place in Normandy. In three days of fighting there were approximately 1,200 casualties only a few miles from Cerisy.

“Because the troop movement records are not exact, I decided to use a metal detector. Right next to my house I started to find K rations (coffee), mortar boxes, lots of spent shells and one or two bullets. Also I found British and French coins. I believe this field is one of the locations listed as Litteau.

 “I have spent much time in the forest had have found many American foxholes. I have again discovered some other small items but on occasion some much larger items. I found a wheel that looks like it could be from 1944. Also I have found what looks to be an old compressor. If there was this type of work going on in the forest [that is, the 111th repairing vehicles and artillery] it may explain my finds. This has always baffled me, but maybe if the 111th was in this area they could be part of their tools or equipment.”

img234 Gus Welty satisfied with foxhole, France 1944

111th soldier Peter Patrick, satisfied with his foxhole, France 1944

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One of Michael’s “automotive?” finds in the Cerisy Forest

With all of this new information, Michael is planning to take his metal detector and go back into the forest where our men were camped and see what else he can find. Stay tuned!

By the way, if anyone reading this blog is planning a trip to Normandy—and keep in mind that next June marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day—you might want to hire Michael to take you around. He conducts private D-Day tours and with his wife runs a B&B and self-catering cottage in their gorgeous manoir:  http://www.manoirdeherouville.com/en/

 

The 111th Makes French History!

Posted: October 30, 2016 in 1944, Normandy 1944

We had a lovely surprise via email this past week from our blog friend in Paris, Tristan Rondeau. You may recall that Tristan, a history student, had found our blog not long after we started it and had asked for any and all information and photos of the 111th’s time in Normandy, France. (The unit was there from June 11 until late August 1944.) I knew he was working on some sort of paper, but I had no idea its entire focus WAS the 111th!

His article is being published in the November issue of Normandie 1944, and he sent me a preview copy. Of course, it is in French, but as Tristan said in his email to me, ” I don’t think you need to read it, for you won’t learn much from it!” It goes on for eleven pages and is full of photos taken by the men themselves. Wouldn’t our fathers be blown away to know their unit’s work there is being read about in France, 72 years later? We wish the best of luck to Tristan, who received his master’s degree in history earlier this year and is preparing to go on for his PhD.

 

Of course, I’ve sent copies to our three survivors–Art Brooks, John Raisler, and Osborne Eastwood. In a perfect bit of timing, Tristan’s article arrived just in time to send it to Art Brooks, the unit’s company commander, on the occasion of his 99th birthday yesterday. We wish you a very happy and healthy year ahead, Captain Brooks!

edited Art Brooks taken outside quarters Brake Germany summer 1945

Art Brooks during the war

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Art Brooks in 2014

The men of the 111th split into two groups, one led by Cpt. Goode, the other by Lt. Brooks, and formed two convoys to make the 250-mile road journey from St. Dogmaels to the D-Day departure ports of southern England. Leaving by boat from near Southampton, the 111th crossed the English Channel and arrived on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, on June 11, 1944–D+5. David Andrews said, “My brother Bobby reminded me that our father’s company was originally supposed to be in the Third Wave of the D-Day invasion, but the Army lost track of them in Wales, and they were ultimately sent in a few days later.”

My sister told me her husband recalls talking to Dad about his unit’s arrival in Normandy: “Mike remembers a conversation he had with Dad about D+5.  Mike had asked him what it looked like when he landed; Dad said that Omaha beach had been totally sanitized by the time they got there.”  

Two of the ships the 111th crossed the Channel on

Two of the ships the 111th crossed the Channel on

Our trucks unload on Omaha Beach

Our trucks unload on Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach, D+5, when the 111th Ordnance arrived.

Omaha Beach, D+5, when the 111th Ordnance arrived

Fighting was fierce as they headed inland. They spent a month or two in the area of Cerisy le Foret, the town where an abbey has stood for centuries. A watercolor of the abbey church long had a spot on our living room wall; we never knew what memories it must have held for Dad. Here is one report of activity there that June:

“Opposition on this move was chiefly confined to harassing snipers, a hazard throughout the Normandy campaign for the wooded thickets were well suited to the camouflaged hidden enemy. Here at Cerisy the battalion set up an all-around defensive position; the town was to be held at all costs. It lay on the path to the strategic St. Lo toward which we were steadily forging. Cerisy will always be remembered as the place where the battalion learned what tragedies can grow out of “trigger happiness.”

Evidence of the price the 2nd Division paid for Hill 192, Normandy

Evidence of the price the 2nd Division paid for Hill 192, Normandy

Cherbourg, the day of the 3,000-plane raid for the st. Lo breakthrough, July 25, 1944

Cherbourg, the day of the 3,000-plane raid for the St. Lo breakthrough, July 25, 1944

Gus Welty, satisfied with his foxhole, France.

Gus Welty, satisfied with his foxhole, France.

The Red Cross on the ball in Normandy

The Red Cross on the ball in Normandy

The girls of the Red Cross donut wagon

The American Red Cross Clubmobile “Daniel Boone,” the first to arrive on the Continent, on July 18, 1944. The women are, left to right, Frances Goodwin, Jeri Jean Ford, and Louise Clayton. These Americans and many more like them served free coffee and donuts to the troops all over Europe during the war. (Thanks to Fano Suarez for providing the names and information.)

Joe Sedlacek and Louis Soutier try for a little fresh milk, Normandy

Joe Sedlacek and Louis Soutier try for a little fresh milk, Normandy

Dad with kids and pets, France

Dad with kids and pets, France

John Andrews (on top left, in truck) and Dad, France

John Andrews (on top left, in truck) and Dad, France

Tank near Charleroi, FranceTank near Charleroi, Belgium

Falaise Gap, France, five days after the decisive battle thereFalaise Gap, France

After passing through the Falaise Gap five days after the battle there, the unit spent about a week in Versailles and went into Paris for Liberation Day celebrations. They then traveled into northern France in September 1944, northeast of Paris, and joined the Allied movement east, toward Germany. Passing Charleroi and Liege, Belgium, into Holland near Fort Eben Emael, they arrived in Maastricht, Netherlands–near the Belgian border–sometime after the Market Garden battle that took place in Germany and the Netherlands in late September 1944. Maastricht had been taken by the Nazis in 1940 and was the first Dutch city to be liberated by the Allies, in early September 1944.

Belgium, Septemebr 1944

Belgium, September 1944

The convoy takes a lunch break, Belgium, Sept. 1944

The convoy takes a lunch break, Belgium, Sept. 1944

The ever-present poker game, while on convoy from France into Belgium

The ever-present poker game, while on convoy from France into Belgium

The failure of Market Garden ended Allied expectations of finishing the war by Christmas 1944. According to Wikipedia, “A tragic consequence of the operation’s failure was the Hongerwinter (Hungerwinter). During the battle Dutch railway workers, incited by the Dutch government in London, went on strike in order to aid the Allied assault. In retribution, Germany forbade food transportation, and in the following winter more than twenty thousand Dutch citizens starved to death.”