Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Losses of HQ and HQ Co, 67th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division- July 29, 1944

Recently, I was gifted with a copy of History of the 67th Armored Regiment of the famous 'Hell on Wheels' 2nd Armored Division. It was owned by a friend's father, Gilbert White, who fought with the 67th in HQ and HQ Company.  It was published in Brunswick, Germany in 1945, just after the War ended.  The inscription on the front was where Gilbert White signed his name and hometown, claiming his personal copy.  This is a 407 page volume detailing the regiment from North Africa to The Elbe in Germany, with each battalion, HQ, Reconnaissance, Maintenance, and Service Companies getting their individual histories recorded.  There are also dozens of pages photographs, the entire regiment's roster (November 1942- May 1945) with decoration and KIA notations, and large, full-colour, fold out maps in the back of the book.  To say the book is a treasure is an understatement.  
Despite  Headquarters and Headquarters Company being with the regiment from it's first action in North Africa, November 1942, they did not have any casualties until 20 months later. Oddly, this company, while belonging to arguably our nation's fiercest armored division in WWII, did not lose a man at the rate other's were lost in the regiment in North Africa, Italy, or the Normandy campaign.   
HQ and HQ Co sailed for Normandy the night of June 10, 1944.  June 16th (1944) "the company experienced their first enemy artillery fire.  There were no casualties although several shells landed in the area perforating C.W.O. Hobbs tent and a piece of shrapnel piercing Pvt. Mc.Coys helmet that was lying next to him.  The next morning slit trenches were on an average of two feet deeper." (p.317). 
"...On the 21st of July all officers were carefully briefed on the coming operation.  The large plan involved the smashing of the enemy crust in a concentrated bombing attach, after which the 9th and 30th Infantry Divisions were to roll back the flanks and the Second and Third Armored DIvision and 1st Infantry Divisions poured through the center." (p.319) This was the battle plan for Operation Cobra to begin July 25, 1944.
The history takes up a couple of days into Operation Cobra, 
"The next afternoon (27 July) the company was again on the move, passing through the devastated country side that had been the scene of the bombing attack.  Not a living thing was to be found along the way.  Dead horses and cattle lay everywhere along with wrecked German vehicles and dead Germans.  A little further on the burnt out hulls of American tanks were seen and occasionally a dead American Infantryman. ... At daylight the next morning they were just outside of Notre Dame de Cenilly.  Small arms fire could be heard up ahead and the company pulled off the road until about 1100 then proceeded on through Notre Dame and halted again just south of town, still on the road.  The Krauts began shelling the town so the Company moved a few hundred yards down the road.  Shortly after that Captain Sanborn arrived at the scene with orders to move back and clear the road.  The Company turned around and moved to an orchard just east of town." (p. 319). 
The next bit of action is stunning and and unexpected.
"The next morning the company moved about three miles further south and pulled off the road.  Nearly all the vehicles were in the bivouac when the Medical Detachment half-track pulled over the swing into the field.  It ran over a pile of sixteen anti-tank mines left there the night before by part of the 4th Infantry.  A terrific explosion occurred, instantly killing Major Montfort Smith, Technician fifth grade McKay, a motorcycle rider from Second Battalion, two men from the 4th Infantry Division and two civilians.  Captain Sanborn was critically injured and died on the way to the hospital.  Captain Raffington, Technical Sergeant Wallace, Technician fourth grade Roberts, Technician fifth grade Dimock, Private Wiggins, Sergeant Hafner, and Technician fifth grade Cordell of the Medical Detachment and Private 1st class Garret and Private 1st class Willinghan of the company were seriously injured.  These were the first casualties suffered by Headquarters and Headquarters Company and their loss was keenly felt by their many friends and buddies in the Company." (p. 320). 

What a bitter pill to swallow.

In August 2018, I led a Western European tour in the footsteps of the 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.  While in Normandy, we spent part of an afternoon at the American Memorial Cemetery in Colleville-Sur-Mer, Normandy.  Because I had spent the year working on the finer points of my tour and history of the 22ndIR, I was not looking for particular soldiers of other regiments buried in Normandy.  While walking among the thousands of graves, however, the location of where Cpt Oliver True Sanborn was resting stopped me dead in my tracks.  Covered in goosebumps, the photos of him I've seen, and his story washed over me.  Two years before I had written this article about him.  It was a full circle moment to accidentally walk right upon him. In the many years I've working on research projects, the ways that certain stories come to me in serendipitous and providential ways have been nothing short of incredible.  It has been true to my experience that even many decades after the events, certain men and stories are crying out to be discovered, heard, and known.   

Oliver True Sanborn, Jr.- his senior portrait and quote at Portland High School, ME
He was the Captain of  his high school army cadets
He is buried at 
Plot E Row 28 Grave 26,
Normandy American Cemetery
Bronze Star, Purple Heart

Captain Oliver True Sanborn Jr. is buried in the Collville Sur Mer cemetery in Normandy, as is Tec5 John W. MacKay (spelled wrong in the regtl history).  Major Montfort Smith is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  SEE UPDATE ABOVE ON THE STORY OF THIS GRAVE PHOTO. (Aug. 2018)

Tec 5 John W. MacKay's body internment paperwork
Plot E Row 17 Grave 26,
Normandy American Cemetery
Purple Heart


Montfort Smith, 1934, a Junior
at the University of Illinois
Major Smith is buried at
Arlington Natl Cemetery,
Section 12, Grave 5228

~~NOVEMBER 30, 2016