Letters from the Front, Part 5
Members of the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion were busy the last week of June and the first week of July 1944. The Normandy invasion had occurred on June 6, but the 391st had remained in England, waiting for the Allies to build a strong bridgehead beyond Omaha Beach before they joined the rest of the 3rd Armored Division and made the big push inland. Meanwhile, they spent hours waterproofing their tanks and artillery vehicles. (The following photos show Sherman tanks with intake and exhaust waterproofing, left, and with a waterproofing skirt, right.)
On June 24, the battalion finally crossed the English Channel aboard an LST (landing ship-tank). At 0800 hours on June 25, they were on the sand at Omaha Red Fox Beach. They dewaterproofed their vehicles and moved to an assembly point, where they established a command post.
The next day, every artillery battery in the battalion fired registrations. [Registrations were the shots fired so that, guided by forward observers (FOs), battery crews could get the range of preselected targets and, when ordered to do so, could fire with effect. As driver for an FO, Dillon Summers was surely a busy man during this activity.] These were the first artillery shells to explode in enemy territory.
Most of the artillery used by the 391st were M7 Priests, 105mm howitzers mounted on a tracked chassis similar to that of the Sherman tanks but with exposed firing crews. Some towed 105mm howitzers and self-propelled 155mm guns might also have been used, but as part of an armored division most were tracked for greater mobility.
Their first assignment was to drive the Germans south southeast of the town of St. Lo. Wasting no time, the 391st on June 26 and 27 poured 732 rounds into the German positions. The next day, the 391st, which normally would be part of Combat Command B (CCB), was temporarily attached to CCA to help the 29th Infantry Division prepare the attack on St. Lo. The attack began at 0900 following the heaviest and longest artillery bombardment since the D-day landings. The battalion fired 1,882 "well-coordinated and extremely accurate" rounds. They fired 626 rounds the next day.
Returning to CCB, they were ordered to prepare for an expected German counterattack in the sector occupied by the 30th Infantry Division. The attack never came, however, and they spent the time cleaning their artillery. On July 6, they fired a rolling barrage and laid down a smoke screen, a total of 3,412 rounds, in preparation for an attack on the town of St. Jean de Daye.
At 2100 hours on July 7, CCB was ordered, in support of the 30th Infantry Division, to attack across the Vire River and seize high ground west of the town of Aire. Dillon was with one of three FOs working during that attack. Because the bridge they had to cross was a single-lane bridge, a traffic jam resulted, slowing the attack and putting the vehicles and soldiers at great risk from the Germans' defensive artillery fire. The attack took until July 9, but CCB finally reached the objective, but not before Private William Fullarton in Dillon's tank was slightly wounded and they fought off a counterattack in which the enemy got to within 50 yards of their forward observation post.
It was just before the launch of the attack on July 7 that Dillon wrote the following letter.
Hellow Mom & family.
Will drop You a few lines today to let You know I am still well & doing O.K. trusting every one there is in good health & doing fine.
have gotten several letters from You lately. was good to hear from You again & to know every one was well. I had a nice hot shower Yesterday. The first one since I've been here.
I got some pictures from Lexie. they were good. As You said. I also thought clara wedding was funny.
Have You got moved Yet?
Well know more now.
I am in for a short rest at the present.
I am well & in good health.
Dont worry, Love to all.
I do not know who Clara was. His comment about the shower is revealing. Since he had arrived in Normandy on the morning of June 25, he had gone 12 hot summer days without a shower. One can only imagine what the environment in the cramped tank with three or four other sweaty men must have been!