Peragimus, "We Accomplish"
At eleven o'clock on the morning of June 8th, in the midst of a great display of naval power, the Convoy dropped anchor off "Utah" Beach on the Cherbourg Peninsula. As far as one could see, the channel was dotted with ships and landing craft of all types and description. All the larger ships had barrage balloons moored to the masts and everywhere one looked there was a panorama of floating "sausages". Overhead, hawk-eyed allied aircraft hovered and maintained constant patrol of the skies on the lookout for enemy aircraft.
Landing craft pulled up to the sides of the ships and the troops began clambering down the landing nets and into the smaller boats. Debarkation started at 11:58, and the crafts rammed up on the beach, the men unloaded and waded through waist-deep water to the dry sands and made their way inland. The area near Azeville which the Regiment had planned to occupy was still in enemy hands, so instead the columns moved along a dirt road south of St. Martin de Varreville, and thence north and east towards Turqueville. As the men marched along, a hot midday sun beat down on them with their heavy loads of new equipment, accentuating the unpleasantness of those first impressions of Normandy. Roads were lined with discarded invasion equipment - at frequent intervals, there were signs with skull and crossbones and the letters "MINEN". Carcasses of dead horses were sprawled on the roadside, and occasionally a dead German in a strange grey uniform and black boots stared grotesquely from a ditch. Now and then, the way would be cleared to allow a jeep with wounded soldiers to proceed in the opposite direction toward the beaches.
First Day AshoreThe 358th Infantry was now in the war, and it was not to be long before those first unsavory impressions would become actual daily experiences. The day following the landing was spent reorganizing and getting the vehicles and heavier equipment into the hands of the companies and battalions. All the while big long-toms in the area sent artillery shells whistling into the enemy lines. That first night, "Bed Check Charlie", the nightly, low flying reconnaissance plane of the Germans with it's recognizable drone, introduced himself to the outfit and received a hot reception. In the distance, over the beach, the sky was aglow with the streak of tracer bullets and antiaircraft fire.
Into the Attack
Less than twenty-four hours after the first troops landed on the beach, the Regiment was ordered to attack. The 1st Battalion jumped off and secured the bridge at Chef du Pont, rescuing a battalion of paratroopers, and then moved on to take the town of Picauville by midmorning. Pushing on toward Pont L'Abbe they met fierce resistance and murderous mortar fire. Later in the afternoon the Third Battalion moved up on the right flank of the First and together they attacked toward the town, but so determined was the resistance, they were forced to dig in just short of the town that night. Meanwhile the Second Battalion remained in Division Reserve.
The three-quarters of a mile from Picauville to Pont L'Abbe was stubbornly defended from hedge to hedge. The famous hedgerow country of Normandy reared itself as the ugly, bitter battlefield on which the 358th Infantry was to fight some of it's bloodiest battles. Each hedge was another line of defense for the Jerry. Prominent also was the sunken roads where the unforgettable odor of the dark Normandy soil was most noticeable. Also came the hated German "88" and the "Burp Gun", each a nemesis to be reckoned with in Normandy. This, indeed was a new type of fighting, and for a time the hedgerow proved a difficult obstacle. Soon, however, the Infantry learned to overcome this obstacle and drive the German from his hedgerow home. Normandy exacted its bloody toll and the plodding Infantry moved on, day after day, from hedgerow to hedgerow.
On the 12th of June the Regiment made its final attack to capture Pont L'Abbe. Roaring P-47s dove on the town and massed artillery battered it to bits in preparation for a four o'clock "jump off". When they moved in with the First Battalion on the left and the Second Battalion on the right they mopped up a completely destroyed village. On the day following, the Second and Third Battalions attacked to secure an important crossroad on the west of town.
On the 14th of June the 82nd Airborne Division passed through the Regiment and drove on to the west. That night the outfit was moved to the vicinity of Amfreville where it attacked the next day toward Le Calais. There were stories of numerous acts of gallantry as the Third Battalion was the first to cross an open swampland which Jerry had well covered with machine gun cross fire. They were followed by the Second which had a difficult time too; but their nemesis was an open field on the other side of the swamp. As darkness approached the First Battalion crossed and the three held firm on the other side for the night. Next day all three Battalions pushed forward about three kilometers to hold along a line near Le Ham.
Through these lines the 79th Division passed to continue on to Cherbourg while reports came that the Peninsula was almost cut. The Regiment then moved to a defensive position extending from Coigny to Baupte, France.
Patrols and "Guts"
While in this location, meager comforts were made available to the fighting men. Some were able to use a blanket in their foxholes, the first bit of cover since the landing on the Normandy beach; and some received hot "chow" for the first time. However, the gallant and courageous actions did not cease, for many patrols were dispatched to penetrate deep into enemy lines. The patrols that came back were frequently badly mauled, but the vital information was obtained, and the great courage of the officers and men who fearlessly entered enemy lines is beyond description. At night there was the familiar drone of "Bed-Check-Charlie", and frequently - almost always, the chronic harassment of enemy artillery came screeching and screaming overhead and detonated with a loud, terrifying explosion that shook the very earth.
The Rains Came
The preceding battles in the Normandy hedgerow country had been rough but the ensuing battles were to be equal tests of the mettle of the fighting men of the 358th Infantry. On July 3rd, a memorable day in the Battle of France, the Division launched an attack southwest against a strong enemy line defended by determined, fanatical paratroopers and SS men. On the first day of the attack, the rains came and the damp dismal weather of the succeeding days made the battle one of the most unforgettable in history. Casualties were heavy and communications and supply were hampered by heavy enemy shelling. The 2nd Battalion charged through to Les Sablons, by-passed it, and continued south, while the First Battalion fought for St. Jores. The Third Battalion, initially in reserve, moved up to Les Sablons to clean out the town and tie in with the Second Battalion. These were days that put a man's courage and strength to the most severe test - days that did not end with nightfall, but dragged on incessantly through daylight and darkness, with rain and mist that apparently would never cease. Hard fighting continued until the Division faced a great hill covered with deep woods, that rose from the land like a powerful giant and engulfed all who were so bold to enter.
Foret De Mont Castre
This was the formidable Foret De Mont Castre and the famous hill 122 that looked out on the English Channel and the very beach on which the Regiment first set foot. Here was to be the supreme test. For the great courage and tenacity displayed here in routing enemy from his mighty wooded fortress, the Third Battalion was to be cited by the President of the United States.
The First Battalion was committed in the Division sector between the 357th Infantry and the 359th Infantry Regiments and launched a successful attack against the eastern nose of hill 122. Success was short-lived, however, for on the first night the Battalion was pushed off the hill by a furious counterattack, and Division Engineers were hurriedly moved up to help bolster the line. The rest of the Regiment was committed on the following day. The Second Battalion was moved to the extreme right flank of the Regiment and temporarily went to the control of the 359th Infantry while the Third Battalion went into action on the left of the Second Battalion. Meanwhile, the enemy increased his desperate efforts to retain control of the important hill. He plastered the reverse slope of the hill incessantly with mortars and artillery. He sent small groups of paratroopers infiltrating into the lines to attack from the rear.
Hand to Hand Fighting
On the 11th of July the Third Battalion executed a bold, hazardous flanking maneuver cutting in rear of the hill, hitting an enemy nerve - his main supply line. Instantly the Battalion was hit from all sides by frenzied enemy paratroopers. The most bitter hand to hand fighting the outfit was ever to see took place as the Battalion fought against very superior numbers of the enemy's best troops. In the thick brush of the mighty forest a man could see only to the next bush. Casualties were extremely heavy as the battle became a fight for the finish. Meanwhile, the First Battalion had finally seized and regained control of the eastern nose of the hill and the Second Battalion thrashed on through the thick brush along with the 359th Infantry Regiment. On the 12th of July, the entire Regimental front moved as the enemy withdrew leaving his dead on the once impregnable fortress. This was the day they finally emerged from jungle-like woods after cracking the Mahlman Line - one of the enemy's greatest defensive positions.
Battle of Gorges
Continuing the advance the First Battalion hit another strong enemy line in the vicinity of the town of Gorges. The Battle of Gorges was hard fought, but the enemy was forced to relent and withdraw to still another line along the Seves River. The Third Battalion moved up to the river to a defensive position while the rest of the Regiment was allowed a few days rest in Gorges - rest that was disturbed by extremely heavy enemy artillery.
Island of White Witches
On the 22nd of July, the 358th Infantry was ordered to attack and seize the Island of Seves - the Island of White Witches, by an age-old superstition, located in the Seves River little more than a mile northeast of Periers. As the entire invasion front remained momentarily static, the First and Second Battalions attacked against overwhelming odds, gaining a foothold on the Island, only to be severely counterattacked, with the enemy throwing in everything he had in an all out effort to retain control of his main line of resistance. Eventually, after butting against impregnable enemy defenses and being subjected to unusually large concentrations of enemy artillery and tank fire, the attack was repulsed amid heavy losses. However, the stage had been set for the historical First Army breakthrough. In the following days, the 358th Infantry was to reap the benefits of a bloody past in the many victories that were to come. The battle of the Island of Seves proved to be the last major encounter for the 358th Infantry in the Normandy hedgerow country.
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