Hi everyone. I've been away for a long time (life you know...), and now I'm back to ask you a little service, since I know that this place is the home of some experts in the field of WW2 (and no, I didn't leave because of the french bashing Actually the cheese eating surrender monkey tosser usually discredits himself in my eyes as someone of poor historical knowledge. So no worries )
Anyways, I talked recently with my father (born in February 1940) and he recalled me his WW2 stories (either his own or told by the family, he was the last of 5 sons).
I just discovered that my father aged 4 back then, got stuck in the middle of a firefight in 1944.
For the record, here's the context:
- my grand father was a WW1 veteran who was wounded in 1918. He was mobilized against in 1940 as an artillery officer, in a unit which was to join the 1st French Army (which would be sent to Breda, Holland in may 1940). Fortunately for him, his 5th son (my father) was born in February 1940 and he got assigned a support unit composed of Spanish republicans (who were in more of less prisoners).
- when the war broke my grand mother and her 4 (soon 5) sons moved from Montereau-Fault-Yonne (80 km SE of Paris) to central France, where her father was. In 1939 everybody was (rightly so, but a few years early) afraid of air raids and Montereau was a pretty good target (railway hub + chemical factories + bridges + military depots).
- My grand father was lucky enough to retreat in an orderly fashion in june 1940 and to be demobilized in late 1940.
- They returned back to Montereau in 1943 when the whole country got occupied
- Some time in 1944 (my father can't recall), they were evacuated again since the bombings were too intense and they were just 500 meters away from the railways station (which is nothing when it comes to carpet bombing)
- They moved with some other families to a small manor in a village called La Grande Paroisse (here's a google maps link). It overlooked the city of Montereau (which lies in the Seine valley) and was considered as a safe location
My grandfather did a pretty good job at finding a safe place for his family to make if through the Liberation safely. But of course on August 25th, things went awry.
So basically, Patton's army outflanked Paris from the South. They eventually reached Fontainebleau and after a bitter fight against the Germans who tried to hold the pont de Vulaines.
The 5th US ID was sent to take Montereau (upsteam). Of course all the bridges were broken. Here's what I found about the battle happened while the Americans tried to cross the river in force (and that happened just a few hundred meters from the manor where my father was).
On the morning of the 25 August, the 2nd Bn, 10th Infantry fought its way into the city of Montereau, followed by the 1st Bn, and the the regiment less the 3rd Bn, which moved into the Bois d'Esmans. Guns of the 46th and 21st Field artillery, 735th tanks and 818th TD's fired on enemy personnel, and gun emplacements on the east bank of the Seine all day in preparation for the crossing.
This part of the battle, from my family's POV was:
The Americans were shelling the Germans from Ville-Saint-Jacques (Google maps) who were entrenched on the Mont de Rubrette (which is the only easily defensible height in the area, I've been there myself countless times and it was already used in 1814 during the Battle of Montereau, Napoleon's last victory. But something is wrong IMHO, see below).
As you can see, the manor is just a few hundred meters away from the Mont de Rubrette and right in the same axis if you're firing from Ville-Saint-Jacques. During the first bombing everybody ran for their lives to the basement except they forgot my father who was happily playing in the veranda of the manor.
Luckily for my family, the US artillerymen were rather good, only one shell exploded in the backyard of the manor. It seems that all the families living in the manor preferred to stay in the basement and were afraid of german exactions and they ran into a very threatening german soldier who took shelter with the families during a bombing.
The 160th Engineers furnished 70 assault boats for the crossing, which began at 2105 hours on 25 August through light artillery shelling on the crossing site and was completed with the 2nd Bn on the buffs of Les Ormeaux at 2315.
Fortunately, members of the Battalion Headquarters Company were early risers for they woke early the next morning, peered over a garden wall and discovered two 70mm howitzers and 28 sleeping Germans. The former were captured and the latter liquidated.
So the crossing happened a few hundred meters down the valley from the manor.
The 1st Bn followed the 2nd Bn and beat off one counterattack in seizing the heights of Mont de Rubrette.
That's the hill next to the manor
The Germans discovered the crossing at daybreak and increased artillery, mortars, and small arms fire. A morning fog aided the Germans in making a counterattack on the 2nd Bn at 0830 hours but the fog suddenly lifted leaving the attacking force exposed in a wheat field to machine gun fire. Fifty to sixty Germans were killed.
From that description, the field is here between the Mont de Rubrette and the crossing site.
Artillery fired into the woods with consequent treebursts forced over a hundred Germans into the open where Company D's machine gunners operated a moving target range. Company L cleaned out the source of small arms fire on the crossing site, the bridgehead was expanded and secured by afternoon of the 26th. 362 Germans were captured of which 275 were wounded. A like number were estimated killed.
Now my father never of heard of loads of Germans being mowed down a few hundred meters away from him. I guess that they spent the battle in the basement and that my grandfather could tell the difference between small arms fire and artillery explosions. But nobody ever talked about that story.
The next part of the family story is that some GIs spent some time resting at the manor and while my grandmother was serving them coffee my father passed from GI to GI to get some chewing gum for his brothers (being the youngest and cutest...).
Since the Americans kept pursuing the Germans, it should have happened rather shortly after the battle. So civilians were out within a day, once the Mont de Rubrette was cleared. That wouldn't have left enough time to clear the fields from the hundreds of Germans lying in the field (and I guess usually civilians were in charge of that job).
So my guess is that my grand parents at least saw the aftermath of the battle but never told the kids to spare them. Even until my grandfather's death in 1981 (and God knows my father and uncles saw some dirty sh*t during the war of Algeria twenty years later, during which most fought at one stage or another).
It's been 15 years since I haven't made historical searches and I lack time for that. My father is now 78 and unfortunately losing day after day a bit of his mind. He still remembers accurately some feelings from the period before the aforementioned battle, such as looking at Montereau being bombed by the USAF from the manor (here's roughly the view he had), seeing the bombs explode and feeling at the same time at the foreground of an horrible show while feeling very secure. It left him a bigger impression than the veranda story.
I hope he'll keep all his memory. However, I'd like to help him to work on it and I'd like to give him more details about what really happened when he was just 4.
Even though I found details about which US Army unit fought here, I miss a lot of details. The most basic being who were those Germans on the Mont de Rubrette ?
I've been there multiple times myself and I have memories of concrete installations (IIRC these were shelters, but the ground on the hill is all sand and they were already sinking into the ground). My guess is that during WW2 the Mont de Rubrette was used by the FLAK to cover the approach of Montereau. Since it's unlikely they would have built something that durable during their retreat. So maybe that the Germans belonged to the FLAK unit which stationed here for awhile until the US Army came for them?
Secondly I'd like to know where the US artillery shelled the Germans from. What that Ville Saint-Jacques (that's my family version)?
Thirdly, who were those GIs handing chewing gum to my father?
My experience working military archives tells me that there's not much to learn from official sources. That battle was just a skirmish compared to what the 5th US ID met in Normandy or Metz and it didn't draw much attention.
Local French sources are mostly focused on the Seine crossing near Fontainebleau at Vulaines sur Seine because a local young boy ferried the GIs on his canoe one by one, helping to start a bridgehead. That's a nice story but it won't help !
Any help would be appreciated ! Thank you !
Edited by GdG**, 29 July 2018 - 1852 PM.