By August 8th, 1944, Patton's 3rd Army had pushed seven divisions across the bridge at Pontaubault, south of Avranches, despite German attempts to bomb it on numerous occasions.
|Pontaubault bridge and historical marker -many places have these helpful markers|
|Avranches, looking down from the castle|
His forces had made a headlong dash into Brittany, (a tactical blunder on the part of the High Command) only to be told to split his powerful army and make a sweep in the opposite direction towards the Seine,
|view of Mont Saint Michel from Avranches|
with the purpose of enclosing the Germans in a tight pocket. This should have been his main objective all along, but now he had been forced to split his army, leaving a substantial armored group in Brittany while taking the remainder of his forces on an epic adventure across France in the direction of Le Mans, formerly the HQ of the German 7th Army. He was making spectacular gains, but his left flank was highly exposed in a narrow corridor between Avranches and St Hilaire du Harcouet. All his supplies had to pass through this area and it was vulnerable to counter attack.
Adolf Hitler was shaken by the July 20th Bomb Plot, but he had recovered sufficiently to hatch another daring offensive plan. He had fired his commander in the west, Gert von Rundstedt, for being too defeatist. Field Marshall Erwin Rommel had been injured in an aerial attack on his vehicle, and now Hitler had charged Generalfeldmarshall Gunther von Kluge with carrying out his counter attack codename, 'Operation Luttich'.
Courtenay Hodge's 1st Army. He had also committed 1000 fighters from his Luftwaffe reserve, which had hardly been seen these past weeks.
The German generals favored creating a tactical withdrawal to the river Seine and the creation of a fighting defensive line, but Hitler was adamant. He sent an envoy to von Kluge's HQ on August 2nd, demanding an immediate counter attack.
The town of Mortain had been taken by the U.S 1st Infantry Division on August 3rd, but the Big Red 1 had been relieved by the 30th Infantry Division soon after. The GIs from General Leland Hobbs's 'Old Hickory', were to receive another severe 'blooding', this time at the hands of the enemy.
|US 30th Div Artillery in Mortain|
The Germans had cobbled together a force of some 300 tanks, 6 below strength infantry divisions and mixture of assault guns. The plan did not allow for the normal preliminary, artillery bombardment for fear of alerting the Americans.
Allied Intelligence, with the aid of the secret code breaking system, 'Ultra', had intercepted the orders for 'Luttich' by August 4th, but they arrived at 1st Army HQ too late to do anything other than to prepare hasty defenses. The Germans had a brief element of surprise.
|British Typhoon launched rockets|
|Mortain, house to house combat|
The German attack was launched in the darkness during the night of August 6th. The 2nd SS took the town of Mortain, but house to house fighting continued for four days.
The Battle for Hill 314
|On a clear day, the view from Hill 314 extends to the coast|
|Abbaye Blanche, an abby for women|
The SS could not break out of the town because GI's from the 30th Division held a commanding position on what became known as Hill 314. The Americans had also set up an effective roadblock on the main road leading out of Mortain at the Abbaye Blanche.
|foxholes are still seen on Hill 314|
Hill 314 is a special story. Men from the 120th Infantry Regiment of the 30th Infantry Division held on to this commanding position in the face of repeated massive aerial and artillery bombardments.
|bomb craters also remain visable|
The Germans threw wave after wave into the attack, but the tenacious GIs fended them off.
At the summit of the hill is the tiny La Petite Chapelle, a small chapel which remarkably sustained only minor damage.
|La Petit Chapelle|
There were many stories of extreme courage during this German offensive, but Hill 314 must be recorded as one of the most courageous stands of WWII. Virtually out of ammunition, with no medical supplies, the boys of 'Old Hickory', held off the vicious and determined SS. They refused terms of honorable surrender and with the guile of a skilled radio operator, Lieutenant Robert Weiss, they brought the fury of rockets from the British Typhoons, down on the German armor. August 7th was a field day for WWII's best tank buster, the Typhoon. A 30th Division veteran pays tribute to RAF Typoon pilots.
|Monument to the 30th Division's 'Lost Battalion'|
The 30th finally broke through to their comrades on August 12th. The hill was littered with the dead and dying. More than 300 men died on Hill 314.
Although the German offensive failed, one German outfit, the 2nd Panzer Division got within 4 miles of Avranches before being stopped by the U.S 35th Infantry Division with a group from the 3rd Armored Division.
As ever the Allies had seriously underestimated the German's ability to regroup into Kampfgruppe and go on the offensive, but this was to be the German's 'Last Hurrah' in Normandy. From here on in it would be a costly, fighting retreat.
|Historical actions are documented throughout the Liberty Route in Normandy|