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Letters from the Front, Part 6

In the days and weeks following Corporal Dillon Summers's July 7 letter home, the 3rd Armored Division fought its way south from the Normandy beaches. The 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion moved right along with Combat Command B (CCB), and at the fore were the forward observers, one of whom Summers drove. As the unit achieved each objective, it was relieved by another unit and then moved forward toward the next objective.

Then they hit the bocage region of Normandy, an area of small, open fields, each bordered by dense hedgerows, mounds of earth thick with tangled and deep-rooted trees. Many of the fields were skirted by narrow, shadowy lanes, an environment perfect for German defenses. It was not at all conducive to armored warfare.

German artillery and machine gun emplacements in the subsequent hedgerows had all surrounding hedgerows covered by effective crossfire. As soon as a Sherman tank rose up over one hedgerow, German artillery in an opposite or adjacent hedgerow blasted the tank's exposed, lightly armored underside.

Only after the First Army's armored divisions adopted a device made by a Sergeant Curtis Cullin from steel angle iron salvaged from a destroyed German road obstruction and welded it to his tank were the tanks able to crash through the hedgerows without exposing their weakness and make appreciable progress against the enemy. They were poised to break out of the hedgerows and into flatter ground where the tanks could maneuver more readily.

The breakout plan was codenamed Operation Cobra. It was during the tense preattack preparations that Dillon wrote his next extant letter, dated July 25, 1944. [Only selected excerpts of this letter are included here. This lengthy (five pages) letter either was damaged in some way and sent as it was, or Dillon never sent it and only brought it home with him later, because it is not written as a V-Mail letter. The apparent reason for the letter, written to his sister-in-law (and indirectly to one of his brothers since he addressed him by name in it), was a domestic situation that had occurred and he hoped to set things right between them.] In the hindsight of history, the letter reveals a lot about the combat situation generally and Operation Cobra specifically.

Hi Ya Girl,
This day July 25/44 I was some what surprised. But really I was very happy to hear from you again. It makes me feel good in every way to hear from people back home. . . .
If _______ was here in my shoes right now, I do believe he would think of changing his way of living. It would do him good. . . . This isn't a bed of roses here. It's total war every way you look when you see them fall all around you an tanks hit & set on fire & burn to the ground with men in them dead from concussion. It's time to look for Gods help. . . .
_______ you are very lucky, you are in a country where there is no worry, a place where you can make good money Yet, you don't appreciate that. Me? I am in a place where I have to stay buttoned up in my tank, or dig a foxhole in the ground whether it's rocky or muddy I must go down to be spared from shell & bomb fragments. What a happy life I could live if I was in your shoes. With a lovely family as you have you should be happy & have a christian home with Christ at the head of it.
I have been in a very nervous stage ever since I have been in France. I have been in the middle of two tank battles. You have read about them in the paper, But didn't know I was in them. Dont guess you cared I'm in a very bad mood today pay no attention. ha My tank was hit by fragments from a German 88 mm shell. Our Radio put out of commission. It was fixed under fire & we carried out our mission. I have been recommended for a Bronze Star for Bravery.
But tell you the truth, I was scared stiff. My bed roll I gave ten dollars for was shot full of holes. My head light shot out.
I couldnt help but think how lucky you and ________ was, also other boys back home.
At night when I sleep I am up & down all night. Sleep in a hole or in under my tank. I look to God for protection.
You could be killed there Just as easy an where would you spend eternity?
. . . The thing I have been made to see now, You havent yet, But you are going to regret if you live, some day, when it is to late. I dont want you to fee mad at me. Because I didnt entend for this to make you mad.
I just wanted to point out how you & I are living. . . .
I guess I am just in a very bad mood & If You were siting by my side now You would be even worse. I have Just seen this morning about 2800 Bombers Bomb a small Area in whitch I must go through in a few hrs.
Heres hoping You . . . really make a go of it from now on. I Love You all, rember me. . . .
Love to all, Dillon.

As he finished the letter, American armored columns, including the 391st, were poised to launch the ground offensive. The massive bombing to which he referred was designed to "soften up" the German lines, disrupt their communications, and make any retreat by the enemy next to impossible. It did that and more. The German troops were dazed and slow to react.

Unfortunately, American troops had also been affected. A breeze arose just as the waves of bombers--B-17 and B-24 "heavies" followed by B-25 and B-26 "mediums" and then P-47 fighter-bombers--blew the smoke from markers that signaled to the pilots where they should begin bombing back across American lines. About 150 Americans were killed and wounded. The operation was postponed for a day while commanders sought to understand what had happened and how to avoid it next time. Lieutenant General Lesley McNair visited the front lines to investigate. He decided to remain overnight and observe the next day's bombardment.

Once again, the heavies, mediums, and fighter-bombers came over and dropped their deadly payloads. Once again a breeze blew the smoke from the markers over American lines. And once again, the bombs fell on American soldiers, killing 111, including McNair. But this time, the ground assault was released once the bombardment was over.

As the armored units raced forward, they found that almost all German front-line resistance had been obliterated, and rear echelon troops were confused and disoriented, able to maneuver in retreat only with great difficulty under the pressure of the oncoming American armored units.

Dillon did not record, at least in any extant letters, what he witnessed.

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