MR. JOHN C. McMANUS: Thank you, John. Appreciate it. Thank you-all so much.
Great honor to be here tonight and speak with you about one of my favorite topics the 7th Infantry Regiment, which I tend to think, just has a fascinating story from start to finish. And I won’t presume to try and tell you that whole story or bore you to death in that fashion, you know, from the War 1812 through now. So my major focus tonight is to take you into the world of the 7th Infantry in World War II, which honestly could be a book in and of itself.
The 7Th in World War II fought from North Africa all the way through to Germany at the end. So those will be my parameters tonight. Again, I’d like to thank everyone from the Missouri State Archives for hosting me including John and, of course, Emily Luker who made most of the arrangements. And I appreciate that very much. It’s a pleasure to be here tonight.
Just a bit of overview on who the 7th Infantry is. As John had mentioned, this is a unit that has been on continuous active service for over two hundred years. First activated in 1808 and still on duty today, in fact, the two active duty battalions; 2nd Battalion 7th Infantry or generally known as 27 and 3rd Battalion 7th Infantry generally known as 37 are currently in Iraq even as I speak to you. And I would venture to say that soldiers from those battalions are out there somewhere on patrol doing the Infantry’s job.
The 27 Infantry is in Baghdad and 37 Infantry just got to Alambar province and is on the Syria Iraq border trying to -- to make sure there isn’t weapons trafficking and working with some of the Sunnis Tribes who had come over to the American side several years ago mainly in response to Al-Qaeda and Iraq’s incredible brutality. That’s the fourth tour of duty for the 7th Infantry in the Iraq War.
Now, in between those wars of 1812 and Iraq the 7th has served in every single American war. And as John had mentioned it has more battle streamers than any other unit in the United States Army. Second most Medal of Honor winners. It has a nickname that came out of the Battle of New Orleans when it served as one of the -- the real bullwork regiments for General Andrew Jackson’s Army in 1814 and 1815 and particularly for the battle fought against the British at Chalmette Plantation in New Orleans the soldiers were said to have fought from behind cotton bales. And thus, they got the nickname Cotton balers.
Well, in my research I found that that probably wasn’t true. They did not really fight from behind cotton bales. That was not terribly practical for the simple reason that British cannonballs might very well have set the cotton bales on fire and, of course, no smart soldier wants to be on fire, as we all know. So they probably fought from behind mud or earthen embankments. Nonetheless, the nickname has stuck and the regiment has embraced that identity and everywhere that the regiment goes, they take a cotton bale with them.
And I don’t just mean a little, fluff and tuft of cotton some place. I mean a heavy bale of cotton, 50 to 75 pounds. That some poor woebegone private drags around wherever it’s supposed to go and he has responsibility for making sure that it’s okay. And he is usually under the direct supervision of the battalion sergeant major which is not really welcome duty for any private soldier. But that’s part of being on the color guard. So the cotton bale goes along with the regimental colors and the battle streamers wherever the unit goes. So the -- as I mentioned the nickname has stuck.
Now, as I think you’ve already sensed the regiment has a long and rich history. And there was no way that I could fit that history into one book. So the publisher and I decided to split it into two books so I published two volumes on the history of the 7th. And we started with the modern story in a book called the 7th Infantry Regiment: Combat in an Age of Terror: The Korean War Through the Present. And that covers Korean War through Iraq. It came out two years ago and, of course, this volume American Courage, American Carnage came out just last year and it covers 1812 through World War II.
And World War II comprises the final two chapters of the book and that’s again what I’d like to focus on tonight. The 7th, I would not for a moment argue, was not a typical American Infantry Regiment of World War II. Far from it, it was anything but that. The 7th was a regular Army unit. It had no real regional preponderance as far as who was in the unit nothing along those lines. The men came from everywhere, from all over this country. They tended to be young; ages 19 to 25 for the most part. Not at all unusual to have 27, 28-year-old majors and lieutenant colonels commanding battalions, 22-year-old captains, 20-year-old lieutenants so on and so forth.
Most of the soldiers, at that time, were white reflecting the segregation policies of the United States Army, one of the supreme ironies of World War II. The U.S. fights against intensely racist, fascist regimes and it does so with segregated armed forces. So if you were a black soldier you were probably going to be held out of combat and put into a support unit of some kind usually under white officers in an all black unit.
The 7th Infantry then was a mostly white combat unit. However, if you were Latino, if you were Native American, if you were Asian American you could have and would have served with the 7th Infantry Regiment.
Now, just a kind of an overview on how big the Regiment would have been at that time and how it was set up. The 7th Infantry Regiment throughout World War II like most American infantry regiments was comprised of about 3,000 to 3,500 soldiers. Somewhere in that neighborhood at full strength. And it usually wasn’t at full strength. It was comprised further of three battalions; 1st, 2nd and 3rd. And each battalion would have had about 800 to 900 soldiers plus attachments.
The 7th served as part of the 3rd Infantry Division, generally known as the “Rock of the Marne” Division for its distinguished combat record in World War I in the Marne Battle. Infantry divisions in World War II had three infantry regiments. So the 3rd Infantry Division in World War II had the 7th, the 15th and the 30th Infantry Regiments. So the 15th and the 30th were the sister regiments of the 7th Infantry and continue to be today. The 15th had a very famous soldier; the most decorated American combat soldier in World War II was Audie Murphy. So that maybe gives you a little bit of a base point of -- of -- this was a division that fought long and hard. And the 7th, 15th and 30th were all a huge part of that.
So the -- the 3rd ID is what I would term a kind of go-to division throughout most of World War II. It suffered the most casualties of any American infantry division in the United States Army. It -- it fought some of -- like the most battles. It was the kind of division that got results. And so it was the kind of division that generals consistently threw in to the most difficult situations and the most intense combat and the most amphibious invasions. It’s rather similar to perhaps a more-famous division from World War II the 1st Infantry Division or Big Red One, which eventually had a movie made about it.
Well, the 1st Division was also a go-to division. So the 1st and the 3rd often fought shoulder-to-shoulder and accomplished some of the key missions from the Mediterranean all the way through to Germany. And I would argue within the 3rd Division the 7th Infantry Regiment was often the go-to regiment. That always seemed to take the lead. That always seemed to get the quote, “honor” of leading the way into the most difficult situations. And believe you me the private soldiers did not see it as an honor, not one bit. Why are we always getting the hard jobs? Why doesn’t another outfit do -- you know, so on and so forth. That’s, of course, soldier complaints. That’s an age-old thing. In the case of the 7th it was often true.
So really the story I’ll tell you is not necessarily a glorious or uplifting story. It’s I’m afraid to say rather grim. It’s -- a grim story of -- of a almost daily struggle in combat, of losing people, of gaining ground, of blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice. That’s the 7th story in World War II. Very similar to many, many infantry regiments in World War II, but I would argue in this case much -- much more intense. The 7th carries out more amphibious invasions than any other regiment in the United States armed forces, Marines included. And the first one takes place, if I can refer you to our first map here, in North Africa as part of Operation Torch; November 1942.
The 7th Infantry invades at Fedala. And you can see it right up there on our map. Now, as I go through this tonight I have several maps prepared for you, but they’re not necessarily always in order so bear with me while I sometimes scroll through and find the one I want. This one portrays the invasion of November ’42 and you can see it company by company. Each battalion had four companies. They were lettered A, B, C, D would have been part of 1st Battalion. E, F, G, H would have been part of 2nd Battalion. And so on and so forth. So you can see where they came in on their boats and these were Higgins boats like early generation Higgins boats. Many of you have seen those portrayed in films like Saving Private Ryan. The famous Higgins boats that make so many of the amphibious invasions possible. These are early generation boats that are mainly wood. So you have an invasion that takes place in darkness on wooden landing craft against a rocky coast with green soldiers, brand new to combat. You can imagine this is going to be a bit of a fiasco and it was.
A lot of the landing craft smashed against the rocks on the shore, splintered apart, soldiers were killed against the rocks and also drowned in the waters in kind of the murky waters in the darkness. Those who did get ashore; what kind of opposition are they facing? Well, as many of you know the invasion of North Africa is against the Vichy French. This is basically -- these are colonial soldiers, local guys, Moroccans or perhaps even Algerians often under French officers serving a government that may or may not be friendly to Nazi Germany. It’s a very dicey, political situation. There is opposition though and it goes on for about a week.
The 7th comes ashore just to kind of trace the route for you it heads this direction towards the very famous city of Casablanca. Probably the most famous movie of World War II, Casablanca. Okay? Well, the 7th Infantry within about four to five days is on the verge of capturing Casablanca there. And it was some pretty intense fighting at times. Some of the worst fighting takes place when the remnants of a French cruiser is about right here and is firing back on these advancing battalions. You can see they’re kind of advancing shoulder to shoulder there. And that was some pretty heavy fire coming down on these guys and it took a better part of a day to silence that cruiser. It was just like a docked cruiser with some heavy guns aboard.
Eventually, the fighting starts to taper off. The highlight really of the whole Casablanca experience is something happens with Charlie Company down here. They overrun a warehouse full of wine casks.
MR. JOHN C. McMANUS: Local wine. And you could imagine soldiers plus wine. You can imagine the revelry that takes place. This is really the highlight of the whole campaign for the 7th Infantry. It leads to some hangovers for some pretty young soldiers that don’t have a lot of experience with wine, but it’s a great time remembered by all. It’s a -- it’s one of the best -- probably the best thing that happens to the 7th in North Africa.
Resistance ends by about November `15th or so. And at that point the 7th and the whole 3rd ID, 3rd Infantry Division, ends up in occupation duty in Morocco guarding against the possibility that Spain would come in to the war. I’m sure all of you have heard of the famous General Patton. You know, General Patton was the overall land commander of this campaign. So the 7th would have served way, way under him. General Patton is heading up the forces that are guarding against the possibility that Spain, which had a colony in Morocco was going to invade the rest of Morocco and get in to the war on the German side. So the 7th Infantry and the 3rd Division spends the rest of 1942 and much of 1943 guarding against that possibility which, of course, never happens.
But the commander of the 3rd ID is a very fine and distinguished soldier name Lucian Truscott. And if you’re ever interested in reading about Truscott; I would highly recommend a brand new book that just came out on him. It’s a book about Wilson Heefner called Dogface Soldier. Outstanding biography published just up the road in Columbia by the University of Missouri Press. Truscott had taken over the command of the 3rd ID and what was special about him is he understood very well how to prepare soldiers for combat. He believed that training needed to be intense. So his infantry men did a lot of road marching, a lot of hiking and this as I mentioned was a young man’s game. If you were over 30 it was tough to keep up, especially in the heat in North Africa.
This unit became so proficient at moving long distances at, you know, weaponry, at close combat, all these kinds of things that had earned a reputation of being a very hard-edged division. And it could move over such long distances that the soldiers came to be -- to know this as the Truscott Tribe.
And Truscott believed strongly this would pay off, this physical conditioning it would pay off in combat because there were other much tougher missions ahead for the 7th and the 3rd ID.
Well, the next one was going to be at Sicily in the summer of 1943 bear with me while I try and bring Sicily. It’s going to be Anglo-American invasion of Sicily in July of 1943. The American side of it is under Patton’s command. The British side is under Montgomery’s command. The 7th Infantry and the 3rd ID are going to have the entire west flank of the -– the invasion. There we go. Now, you can see right here at Licata is where the 7th Infantry is going to come ashore. They are on the western flank of the whole 3rd ID, which is on the western flank of the whole Allied invasion sector.
Now, you’re going to have help from paratroopers who jump inland. Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division, of course, the British beaches are down here. You have other American units that are going to invade here notably the 1st Division and the 45th Division, The Thunderbirds. The invasion armada runs into a terrible storm on the way to Sicily and the soldiers are seasick beyond what you could even imagine. Many of them don’t even want to go ashore and die they just want to die right there on the boats. They’re in such misery. There’s a concern they’re going to have to scrub the invasion because the storm is so intense they’re worried about the whole fleet getting swamped. Luckily, the storm blows past. The fleet recovers. The soldiers recover eventually and D-Day there is July the 10th, 1943.
Opposition at the beach, lukewarm. It’s Italians, coastal defenders who may or may not want to fight. The Mussolini Regime is very unpopular at this point, especially in Sicily so really your biggest threat if you’re an American soldier here is inland counter attacks from better Italian units like the Assietta Division, the Livorno Division, but most notably German opposition.
The Hermann Goering Division right here ready to push against Licata and against the -- the 1st Division beaches of Gela. And believe you me they do. This leads to some really intense fighting for those first few days after the invasion. That’s where the casualties start to amount up. The heat is intense, its 95 degrees and upward scraping 100 degrees at times. Here’s where the physical conditioning pays off.
The 7th gets the mission as the arrows show you kind of pushing westward here to capture the key town of Agrigento, which had an ancient history dating back to the Greeks; beautiful resplendent place looking over the cliffs and anyone would look at it and know you got to have that if you’re going to control any -- you know, inland route here from Sicily. The 7th captures Agrigento in some pretty intense fighting against Italian defenders. There are instances where the Italian soldiers fake surrender. They put out fake surrender flags and the 7th Infantry soldiers come out to receive the surrender and get gunned down. This leads to some pretty angry soldiers as you could imagine. And it’s amazing that they are going to take any prisoners after that, but they do.
By and large, the population is very favorable to the Cotton balers and really all of the Americans. As I mentioned, the war is unpopular in Sicily and really in Italy now. Mussolini Regime falls during this time. And the Italians and Americans don’t have that much to fight over. They’re natural friends partially because of so many waves of Italian immigration to this country in the decades leading up to this. So it seems like every town you go into everyone has a relative in America; a brother, a sister, a cousin, an uncle, a son, a daughter, an aunt, whatever. Everyone seems to speak English or there’s many Italian American GIs who speak Italian, so it’s a festival kind of thing. It’s a carnival environment.
You’re eating almonds. You’re eating watermelons. You’re eating olives and olive oil. All of this kind of thing is going on that July so at this stage this is kind of the fun part, if I can even use that term, but the fun part of the Sicily campaign when you are just kind of moving here against mixed opposition. British are in a real bind here at Mount Etna kind of stymied by that high ground and by intense German opposition there.
So Patton, of course, I’m sure you’re aware of his intense rivalry with Montgomery. He wants to get to Palermo right up here on the north coast. Well, the 7th Infantry and the 3rd ID kind of take the lead and have a road march, a vigorous road march across the expanse of the whole island amid the heat that summer of 1943. They go through a little town called Corleone, which you see on our map up there. Corleone, of course, is made famous by the Godfather movies. The Corleone family is said to have come from there and it’s said to be a Mafia dominated town and it was and it is.
The Americans are getting help from the Mafia because of help from the American Mafia reaching out to the Sicilian Mafia, which is a nice group to have on your side in Sicily.
MR. JOHN C. McMANUS: And the GIs find that out. So over the course of about two to three days, Truscott trot pays off and the Cotton balers and the rest of the 3rd ID get across the island. Cotton balers get in to Palermo first, to the chagrin of Patton. Patton was an armor guy. He loved the 2nd Armored Division which was his old division and he wanted them to have the honor of capturing Palermo. 7Th Infantry kind of did some freelance patrolling to get in there first and once they were there, you know, Patton very well -- couldn’t very well tell them to leave and give it back.
So they get there first sort of to his chagrin, but he’s still happy to get Palermo. And there is, again, kind of another party. Okay. Well, unfortunately it’s about to get much more grim because at this stage what you’re going to have to do is go cross that northern coast and a narrow avenue of attack on that coastal road between mainly high grounds, sometimes mountains and between the sea. And so it’s very easy for the Germans, now, because it is total German opposition as we get into August. Very easy for them to defend; the roads are heavily mined like with teller mines. Teller mines are oversized mines that could literally blow a person apart. They are designed to destroy landing craft and vehicles. But the machine guns are zeroed in there. The mortar opposition is absolutely overwhelming. It’s a daily slaughter. And it’s at this point that Patton decides to -- to try and launch amphibious invasions behind the German lines. A real gamble. It’s the 30th Infantry that does this and the 7th are the ones who fight to them.
The Germans often blew the bridges, you know, ‘cause -- to slow down the Allies, so it was not at all unusual to see engineers toiling out there over -- over huge cannons, but the bridges have been blown. Bridges dating back to Roman times. Hanging there in space in harnesses with pneumatic drills working to try and build bridges and an entire column of armor and troops waiting behind them to have some sort of bridge constructed. That’s what Sicily is like at that point.
The campaign doesn’t end until mid August. On August the 17th is when the 7th Infantry gets to Messina. I know this seems like a 7th Infantry travel log, but it is. And it seems like, gosh, they’re always the first ones in there. It’s not just my favoritism for them, this is what actually happens. The 7th is the first Allied unit to get in to Messina on August the 17th. And this time Patton’s really happy with them because they get there ahead of Montgomery and his guys after a grueling six week campaign. The bad news, of course, is most of the Germans have escaped to fight again another day in Italy.
So from the fall of 1943 the Allies invade Italy itself. And I will attempt to get that up here for you. In the fall of ’43, they hit Salerno in September of that year. It’s an Anglo-American invasion. The 7th is not -- is not leading that invasion but it intends participating in it as a reinforcement. So the 7th and the 3rd ID comes in at that point. There was great hope that the Allies could unhinge the whole Axis defense plan in southern Europe there, in Italy that fall of ’43.
Well, instead what happens the Germans basically take over the whole country, set up strong defenses and Italy is ideal defensible terrain. You’ve got a lot of mountains, you have a bad road net, you don’t have much terrain to cover coast-to-coast so they stymied the Allied advance. So what this is like for the Cotton baler soldiers is just a slow, incremental slog up the Italian boot that fall of, ’43 hilltop to hilltop, mountain top to mountain top, sometimes fighting it out with the Axis soldiers in the mountains by hand with rocks at times. If you get wounded it’s a very difficult deal because they may or may not be able to get you out of there, to get you down off the mountain.
They’re bringing in supplies with mules. The weather is getting bad, it’s rainy, it’s cold, it’s muddy and it’s just a nightmare. As one soldier put it and I’ll read you some quotes here because these soldiers who experience it can describe it to you better than I ever could; “The nights became colder, the miserable Italian rainy season set in with all its cruelty, troops stayed wet much of the time. Illnesses associated with cold and damp exposures sky rocketed. The already bad road conditions worsened as these heavy military vehicles turned the thin asphalt or dirt roadways into soupy, deep, quagmires of bottomless mud.” And that pretty much describes it.
When you get off the line you go to Naples for R & R. The Americans had captured Naples on -- in early October and the city like much of Italy was heavily booby trapped by the Germans as they retreated so they were a lot of casualties, civilian casualties that came about because of that. But Naples just turns into this -- this kind of black-market, Wild West, boomtown with prostitution, racketeering, you name it going on there. Venereal disease rates for the U.S. Army absolutely sky rocket in Italy and in Naples altogether. There’s about a divisions worth of manpower down at any given time. That’s almost 16,000 soldiers. And the Cotton balers certainly have their share of that.
So as ’43 turns into ’44 this Italian campaign is just turning into kind of hopeless, stalemated slog. So the Allies are hoping to -- to kind of turn things around. They want Rome badly. So they conceive of an outflanking, amphibious invasion at a place called Anzio. This is January the 22nd of 1944, it’s called Operation Shingle. It’s an Anglo-American invasion. And the 3rd ID, as usual, is going to be a big part of it and the 7th Infantry, as usual, within the 3rd ID will be a big part of it there.
They come ashore against almost no opposition. It’s almost -- it’s a total surprise. They’re about 20 some odd miles behind the German lines here. The plan is to kind of forge inland, capture the high ground, cut the roads, get to Rome and kind of checkmate the whole German Army in Italy. Instead the Allied commanders most notably 6th Corps Commander, General John Lucas, and his superior, 5th Army Commander, General Mark Clark, decide, well, you know, we don’t really have much stuff ashore here. This thing is on a shoestring. We better setup just a little perimeter here on the low ground -- file that one away -- on the low ground and it is low. It’s like flat as a pancake terrain here in from the beaches. Set up a perimeter here, get stronger and then we’ll push inland. Well, this gives the Germans plenty of time to react. They send powerful re-enforcements by the end of January and into early February to begin attack -- attacking that beachhead. And guess what they have? The high ground, the Alban Hills, which you can see on our map there.
So this leads for the 7th Infantry into a very unhappy moment at a place called Cisterna di Littoria. I would argue no town in World War II was beaten up more than that town. At the end of January, Lucas had ordered the 3rd ID and the Rangers, two Ranger battalions to push for Cisterna di Littoria, a key road -- crossroads. Okay? It’s to a night attack. Two battalions of the 7th are involved in this. Well, at the very same time the Germans were pushing powerful re-enforcements to attack the allies. So they end up mixed together at night.
The Rangers end up in the middle of -- of an airborne, an armored staging area for the Germans and two entire Ranger battalions are annihilated and many of the prisoners paraded through Rome as trophies. The 7th Infantry is a little more fortunate in that it ends up along these canals. There’s a lot of low ground there with irrigation canals generally known Mussolini Canal. And they end up fighting at night close engagements with German soldiers sort of on the other side of like canal dikes. So a lot of grenade throwing back and forth, a lot of machine-gunning close end, standing up over the dike machine-gunning down at the guy who’s a few feet away in the darkness. That’s sort of what this is like.
But in many cases, the 7th soldiers are like fish in a barrel at the bottom of this -- of these canals and the German soldiers on top of them just throwing grenades and shooting their rifles down on them. It’s an absolute debacle. It’s a mess. And it’s an indicator that the Germans are about to launch some of the most powerful attacks of the entire war, you know, against the western Allies.
So throughout February that’s what happens. The 7th is lucky not to be annihilated at Cisterna. They retreat back to that perimeter. And the Allies basically just set up a perimeter in which they’re pinned in trying to ward off these extremely powerful German counterattacks throughout February. What ends up happening is stalemate. The Allies have a lot of air power, a lot sea power to forge a balance here and a lot of tough soldiers like in -- you know, in the British Army and the U.S. Army. So it ends up as kind of a trench stalemate. At Anzio if you’re a Cotton baler soldier there, you basically live the life of a mole. You live underground throughout the entire day. You come above ground during the day, you’re likely to get shot by a sniper or blown up by shells. Remember, the Germans have the high ground.
So there’s a lot of patrolling at night, patrolling between the lines back and forth and, you know, it’s not always continuous lines. It’s strong points out there somewhere and eventually they’re going to train -- specially train in the 7th Infantry volunteer soldiers to be part of what was called the Battle Patrol. These are guys who get special privileges in that they get a little bit better food, they don’t have to stand guard duty quite as much, but they have a very dangerous job of patrolling at night. Usually like every other night or so maybe one out of three nights out there as part of the Battle Patrol gathering information, capturing prisoners, so on and so forth.
They’re almost like if you can think of them as Rangers. They’re almost like mini Rangers within the 7th Infantry. The Battle Patrol then will exist for the rest of World War II and have that kind of role of being these shock troops of the -- of the 7th Infantry.
Well, as you may know, at Anzio the Allies eventually re-enforce it enough to create a very powerful perimeter and they eventually breakout from this perimeter when the weather gets better in May of 1944 and push for Cisterna di Littoria once again. The Cotton balers end up fighting there in May. And at this point, by then, the Germans have fortified it like you wouldn’t believe. Dugouts covering every avenue of approach especially the roads. Dug in mortars, dug in 88 millimeter artillery pieces and any other kind of artillery piece you can imagine, machine guns, riflemen. The town itself is a shamble, so it’s perfect rubble to take cover in if you’re a defender. And they just exact a grim toll on -- on the attacking American soldiers. The 7th Infantry Regiment suffers hundreds of casualties in the matter of a couple days. But they do even more damage to the Germans and eventually just by bludgeoning the defenses through sheer relentlessness they -- they break through at Cisterna di Littoria, begin to go inland to some of the other road nets and then push to Rome.
And Rome falls on June the 4th, 1944. So at that point, the 7th is one of the first units into Rome, but I can’t claim they are the first. We don’t know who was the first unit in Rome. Several units claim that honor. I can’t say for sure. But they are one of the units that does get in there and this is one of the few rewards you would have as a Cotton baler soldier after so many months of strife because it’s like -- it’s a party. The population is excited, they feel this is liberation and so you could spend maybe about a week or two in Rome partying. But you being the 7th Infantry, they’ve always got a new job for you.
So there’s another amphibious invasion believe it or not. The 7th spends the rest of the summer training for the next invasion, which will be of south France, south France. All of you know about the Normandy invasion in June of 1944 and, in fact, that was the supreme irony of the fall of Rome. General Mark Clark had badly wanted the Americans to get Rome and him to be known as the great conquering general, the first one since ancient times to conquer Rome. Well, he’s bumped off the front pages in a matter of a day or two because Normandy invasion happens on June the 6th, 1944.
Well, the Americans had always felt that the invasion of northern France had to be accompanied by a subsequent invasion of southern France on the Riviera, the famous Riviera, which you see on our map there. The British bitterly oppose this. They wanted to re-double efforts in Italy or invade in the Balkans like in Yugoslavia or get to Austria. They wanted to meet the Russians as far east as possible at the end of the war.
But make no mistake, the British were also thinking very much in terms of their own Mediterranean Imperial interests, too, and the Americans sensed that. The Americans felt for the Allies to succeed in this massive campaign in France, you had to put maximum pressure on the Germans from two directions and you needed as many supply ports as possible including the wonderful supply port of Marseille. So the Americans get their way in 1944, ‘cause they are the lead actors in the Allied coalition. Two-thirds of the manpower, the supply power; two-thirds of everything in this big campaign in northern Europe will be American. And Eisenhower, of course, as you know, is the commander.
In ’42 and ’43, the British have gotten their way because they were still the lead actors; ’44 things had changed. And that really -- from the point of view of an American historian that’s a -- that’s a turning point, a harbinger in American History. This is really when the United States kind of becomes a superpower in the summer of 1944. The invasion of south France is an example of that.
Three veteran American divisions are going to lead the way there. The 3rd over here on the western flank, the 36th and 45th Divisions alongside and, of course, as always the 7th has the extreme west flank of the whole invasion; one of the toughest jobs. The invasion of south France has the reputation of being like a walkover, but it really wasn’t quite that. There is opposition at the beaches. It’s not like Omaha Beach or something, but the mines are a real problem. And the 7th Infantry’s deadliest day in World War II is the day of this invasion, August the 15th, 1944, and it’s mainly because two Higgins boats get blown up by mines and almost everyone on those boats is killed.
Some of the roughest opposition is on that western flank when the Battle Patrol basically overwhelms in close-end fighting; horrible, vulgar fighting. Sometimes hand-to-hand overwhelms the German defenders along Cape Cavalaire as you see there. Once they’re past that kind of -- that hard crust of -- of resistance you then see kind of a retreating German Army up to Rome, desperately trying to get out. The German situation in Normandy had gone down the tubes. The German Army is trying to get out of France. The French Army follows up the American Army here and captures the supply ports and attacked Toulon and Marseille. And these are mainly French colonials who are fighting for De Gaulle’s Free French Movement.
So at that point, you see this chase up the Rhone Valley and what involves the 7th most notably is an incident at a place called Montelimar in late August. The 3rd ID and the 7th Infantry are able to pin hundreds of Ger- -- retreating German soldiers in at Montelimar and they get raked over with Allied airstrikes, artillery, mortars, machine guns and close-end attacking infantry like the Cotton balers.
And some of you have heard of Falaise, the Falaise Pocket in Normandy probably in which thousands of Germans are just annihilated in that sort of end to the Normandy campaign. Well, this is a mini version of that.
And this is what it’s like in the view of one Cotton baler soldier who wrote about it, said, as he went down and he looked at the remnants of this German column, said, “Clothes have been burned from the bodies of the dead, which were blackened beyond recognition. The dead horses lay in the most fantastic shape; some with their legs in the air, others resting on their heads, some had been split open by shells and their guts and entrails were scattered about the area. Dead Germans could be seen dangling from their vehicles or in them. A terrible stench arose and many took sick, an outrageous odor of burned and burning wood, scorched metal, stinking dead and singed flesh and clothing.” Not at all unusual for Cotton baler soldiers when they came upon this to simply bend over and vomit by the side of the road. Fighter pilots who had their canopies open several thousand feet above could smell it. The entire column was scorched. Engineers had to come up with bulldozers to clear the detritus of human beings and horses out of the way and vehicles, too, before Allied vehicles could continue to advance north. This was the reality for the victors; you can only imagine for the vanquished. How bad this was for the Germans.
Both the German Army and France is -- is in seriously -- is in serious trouble. And there’s a lot of optimism that the war is going to end. It’s going to end by Christmas and all this. As if a war can be on a schedule, a holiday schedule sort of. I’ve always been amused by that. We’ll be home by Christmas. Well, how? You know? There was still a long way to go. And the reality was the Germans would recover on their western border.
So in the fall of ’44, the 7th Infantry begins to -- to just kind of leapfrog beyond south France and into eastern France to this heavily wooded and kind of mountainous area known as the Vosges. It looks like Vosges but it’s pronounced the Vosges. And by -- already by mid September and into October German resistance was really stiffening. And that was similar to what you saw farther to the north, you know, in Luxemburg and Holland and Western Germany where the Allied advance was slowing to a halt, partially because of supply problems.
Well, in this case, the 7th kind of plunges in to the Vosges and this is what it’s like in the view of one experienced NCO, “The smell and feel of a hard winter was steadily surrounding us. The enemy began to defend from prepared positions and more often tenaciously held on to ground. The Germans planted mines and booby traps and operated generally from a continuous line of resistance.” There were many struggles here as they kind of move east. Struggles through river crossings, struggle for crossroads, I mean, there were all these amphibious invasions, but there were a lot of river crossings from Italy onward, from the Volturno River onward. And the 7th had become really experts at -- at night river crossings including one of the Meurthe River in November of ’44.
And, you know, you might go across on foot, just plunging into the river. More likely you are going to go across hanging onto a line that engineers have -- have strung from one bank to the other. You might, if you’re lucky, go across on a foot bridge. You’re going to run into mines, buried mines along the banks of the river and also machine gun opposition. It’s -- it’s just a mess.
One of the worst battles takes place at Le Haut Jacques, which the GIs of the 7th Infantry simply called “crossroads of hell”. They lost 125 men in one day. It was ex- -- it was pouring down rain, probably in the upper 30s, it was muddy, you’re facing very staunch opposition there, no way to out flank this crossroads, artillery like you wouldn’t believe, you’re having trench foot problems where, you know, your feet are just too wet for too long and they begin to die, pneumonia problems, just absolute sheer misery of these soldiers that, you know, ultimately kind of overcome this, but it’s a nightmare.
The ultimate prize for the 7th is Strasbourg. Strasbourg is up there, which they get by about Thanksgiving time of 1944. The end of November, 1944, and there’s not much fighting that goes on in Strasbourg; some sniping incidents, things like that, but for the most part the city falls mostly unscathed. It’s a city the French and Germans had bickered over for many, many, many generations. So it’s a city that held great symbolism to the De Gaulle emerging government to symbolize French nationhood, the restoration of France. And the 7th Infantry then begins an occupation duty for the rest of November and December of 1944 in Strasbourg. Strasbourg as you probably know is on the Rhine. So this is the 7th Infantry’s what they call “watch on the Rhine”. It’s the second time they’ve had that. The first time was after World War I during occupation of Germany.
So the 7th is not part of the Battle of the Bulge that goes on in December and January. So it’s not part of these really famous battles like Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. But it doesn’t mean it’s not going to do some equally tough fighting.
The next job comes at a place called the Colmar Pocket. It’s the last German held bastion in France, the Colmar Pocket. The Colmar Pocket is basically Alsace, which is also dual French, German ethnic character. There we go. Colmar Pocket takes place in January and February, 1945. Eisenhower’s orders were to unleash a pincer’s attack. The French are going to come from here. The Americans led by the 3rd ID are going to come from here. They will meet up, cut off these Germans and destroy this remaining German pocket there in France, and meet up like at Colmar, the City of Colmar. This unleashes on January the 22nd. Well, of course, many of you know how difficult the winter of ’44 and ’45 was. Snow, sub-freezing temperatures, it was one of the most terrible winters on record in European History. Well, by this point in the Colmar Pocket then you’re dealing with thigh deep or maybe even hip deep snow, probably 20 degrees and you’re fighting in that kind of situation. The Germans are well camouflaged in snow top bunkers. The Colmar Pocket is an absolute bloody mess for everyone involved. It is a desperation struggle like so many of these other battles that go on throughout World War II that are kind of anonymous today, but I think worth knowing about for what the soldiers experienced there and for how it contributes to the final goal of victory over Nazi Germany.
I’ll just illustrate this campaign with one anecdote. And it happens here at a place called Whir-en-Plaine. There was a 7th Infantry Battalion and I don’t remember if we was the first or second battalion, but they were really at the end of their rope fighting a night battle in this little town. And what was causing them extreme problems was the fact that there were two German tank destroyers across this rolling -- rolling field of snow; two German tank destroyers that were just blowing up soldiers and just raking them down with machine guns. Major Jack Duncan, the battalion commander, felt like his battalion was about to be destroyed there because all the 7th Infantry had at that point was artillery support which was inaccurate and bazookas. Many of you have seen bazookas. Those unwieldy five foot tubes, you know, basically you got to have two people to -- to operate them. You have the loader in the back and sets it up -- sets the rocket in there and sets up the wire and taps the gunner and then the gunner points and fires and hopefully hits something.
Well, the -- this battalion is basically down to one bazooka rocket. That’s all they got. Okay? And a trustworthy private, Private John Bale, in the view of Duncan his best bazooka man, is going to shoot this one last round that will hopefully hit one of the tank destroyers and save everyone’s life is what this comes down to. He points and shoots and at first it looks like the rocket is going to go awry. And almost something like out of a movie it then flutters and goes back toward the -- the German tank destroyer and explodes against the terrain. The vehicle brews up just to catch its fire. The German crewmen emerge out of the tank and they’re on fire, rolling around in the snow, screaming as you can imagine. And the guys in the other tank destroyer, the German crew doesn’t know that the Americans don’t have any more bazooka ammo. All they know is, look what just happened to those guys we’re getting out of here.
MR. JOHN C. McMANUS: And that’s what they do.
That tank gets out of there. And that really -- something like that makes the difference between life and death for 200 some odd soldiers who have survived this here at Wihr-en-Plaine. And they get the town. Eventually, French tanks come and reinforce them and they press on to Colmar. There’s another river crossing at the Colmar Canal and this thing is wrapped up by about the first week or two of February.
But, you know, just the casualty numbers just in the 7th alone; 134 dead, 584 wounded, 349 non-battle casualties that means trench foot, pneumonia, other sicknesses, but it also means combat fatigue, what we now call PTSD, guys who just could not take any more that -- that’s part of that number, too.
From there the 7th is going to fight, you know, on the Siegfried line; clearing out a lot of those pillboxes and bunkers close to the Rhine. It’s really the last major obstacle for the allies in the west, is to get across the Rhine River into Germany.
This is March of ’45, and you can see -- you can see right up here is where the 7th crosses the Rhine. Now, that’s late March of ’45. It’s not the first soldiers to cross. It’s at a place called Sandhofen. The 7th has had to fight its way up to there and it’s been, again, kind of another nightmare I won’t go into in much depth, but fighting amongst the pillboxes and bunkers over here is very costly. Getting across the Rhine is quite an operation. It’s a nighttime crossing. Most the soldiers go across on ducks. They’re those amphibious vehicles that can go in water and also on the highway. If you’ve ever been to Boston and taken one of the tours they have the old World War II era ducks. That’s what they drive you around in and they can go into the harbor. Well, it’s perfect for river crosses. So you’re going across on those ducks and you’ve got artillery support so on and so forth, but German artillery comes in and reeks havoc on some of the companies.
The German resistance though on the east bank is really not all that -- not all that strong. So at that point for you as an average solider the campaign then is a matter of kind of getting on trucks or riding on tanks along these good German roads and keeping -- keep moving until you run into resistance usually at roadblocks, bottlenecks, towns and, you know, at this point you are still suffering a lot of casualties.
The fighting when it happens is still as intense as ever. Casualty rates are just as high here in the spring of ’45 for all the allied formations as they were in the summer of ’44. The outcome of the war though is not in doubt, obviously. So it just depends whether you run into Germans who want to fight it out or surrender and that’s total luck of the draw.
So it’s kind of a leapfrog campaign in which the 7th Infantry and the 3rd ID begins to move southeastward, down in this direction through Nuremberg. Many of you know Nuremberg as being one of the most heavily Nazi cities where they had their rallies and so on and so forth. This is really the last major battle for the 7th in World War II and it takes place in mid April of ’45. It’s house-to-house. It’s -- it’s, you know, wall-to-wall because there’s a lot of walls in the inner part of that city. It had been a heavily bombed city so there’s a lot of rubble already. And the casualty rates on both sides are pretty high.
At this stage there’s two major prizes for the allies as Nazi Germany is in its death rows. Berlin, which the Russians are about to get and also this prize down here known as Berchtesgaden. Berchtesgaden you may have heard of as Hitler’s mountain home. Hitler had a mansion up there. It was a big Nazi complex. Most of his cronies had built structures up there over the years. This is where he went to relax and scheme and this is where the conquest of Europe had really been planned. This was an Alpine wonderland, a Hansel and Gretel wonderland, a Nazi shrine. And Eisenhower and the other Allied commanders worried that maybe even Hitler himself, but a lot of hardcore Nazi’s would come down here into the Alps, into the mountains around Berchtesgaden and use that high ground to hold out for years and years and years in what they called a redoubt.
So there’s concern over that, but also Berchtesgaden is a major, prestigious prize. It’s Hitler’s home for gosh sake. So much of what is called the 7th Army and I know this is a bit confusing, but like Patton, for instance, he’s an Army level commander, multiple divisions, tens of thousands, ultimately hundreds of thousands of soldiers under his command. He controls the 3rd Army at this point and his guys move in to Czechoslovakia. The 7th Army is under Alexander Patch and the 3rd ID is a part of that 7th Army. Okay?
So they begin to turn south to clear out the redoubt and deal with Berchtesgaden. Berchtesgaden is supposed to be taken by the 101st Airborne Division, the famous paratroopers. They’ve been tapped for the honor of going in to Berchtesgaden and there is a prevalent myth in our country today that EZ Company 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, the famous band of brothers, is the first in to Berchtesgaden. This is false. It is not true.
They are trying to get there in late April and early May. They and the whole 101st, so is the French 2nd Armor Division and so is the 3rd Infantry Division. Well, it just so happens that the 3rd Division is able to capture the key bridges over what’s called the Saalach River, which is the main approach to Berchtesgaden. They’re able to get there first. So at this point the division commander; Truscott, by the way, had been promoted way up the line, now, he’s an Army Commander. So there’s a different division commander, General John O’Daniel decides, you know what, my guys are getting to Berchtesgaden first.
And guess who’s in front for his guys? Not hard to guess, at this point, is it; the 7th Infantry, right. So he tells the colonel in charge of the 7th Infantry, John Heintges, who by the way had been born in Germany. He tells Heintges, all right, you have your guys secure those bridges; no one crosses until your lead elements get into Berchtesgaden and that’s exactly what happens. The French get there and they’re not pleased at all. Not happy. Paratroopers get there, not happy in the least. And they find a little foot bridge, too, farther down the river, but they’re not able to get across it in any good length of time.
So on the afternoon of May 4th, 1945, the two battalions of the 7th Infantry including the battle patrol converge on Berchtesgaden and go up to Hitler’s complex and loot things and just have a wonderful time.
They go into -- now, Hitler’s complex had been bombed by the RAF about a week or two earlier so you are going through the ruins, but there’s storage areas underneath. There’s rooms full of plundered art. There’s rooms full of silver, china, tea-ware, all this kind of stuff. There’s rooms full of food and other goodies. There’s -- in the town there’s these huge wheels of cheese, there’s beer, you know, there’s not much opposition. Thankfully, there aren’t too many fanatics who want to fight it out. Most of them will surrender at this point. They overrun Hermann Goering’s house. This is just kind of a wonderful moment for the 7th Infantry to go there and party with Hitler’s champagne.
I had the honor of having dinner about two months ago with the officer who commanded the first company in there, First Lieutenant Sherman Pratt, who had started out the war as -- as an NCO with the unit and had gotten a battlefield commission. And he went -- you know, he was really kind of the first one into Hitler’s house and he went in there, into the silver room and it was blinding all the silver in this one room when they turned on the lights. But he got, like, a creamer, like, a pitcher that had the initials A.H. on it. And I’m proud to say that when we had dinner he used that to serve us water, you know, so I thought, wow, that’s pretty neat.
Sherman wrote about this in a great book that I would highly recommend to you called Audubon to Berchtesgaden it really outlines his experiences through the whole war not just -- not just there.
So the 7th Infantry is in there for about half a day or so; there’s a joint flag raising the next day with the French. And the paratroopers come in there, too. So they do get to Berchtesgaden, but not first. And -- and, you know, I corroborated this with a lot of research not just in the 3rd ID records, but the 101st Airborne records. It’s in there. It’s in the 506 records. Colonel Sink the famous commander of the 506 was a good friend of Colonel Heintges, the commander of the 7th. And they sat down and figured out the changeover and both talked about it in later years. It’s really not a secret that the war kind of ends this way.
So, of course, you know, victory in Europe day happens about two to three days later, May 7th and 8th, 1945, and then the war comes to an end. And at that point the 7th is on occupation duty in Salzburg. So they don’t stay in Berchtesgaden long; maybe a half a day to maybe a day at the most.
By the way, in my research I found that there was a shooting that occurred between the paratroopers and the 7th Infantry. I don’t know anything more than that except one of the paratroopers shot one of the Cotton baler soldiers. Something tells me alcohol was involved, but I don’t know.
MR. JOHN C. McMANUS: Pure supposition on my part. I don’t know.
There were real tensions with the French. There was almost shooting there, but it did not occur because cooler heads prevailed among the officers on both sides. So, you know, it wasn’t all love and fellowship toward the end there.
If you can just absorb these numbers though, by the end of the war, for the 7th, 10,000 plus; 10,244 casualties. Now, the regiment’s original compliment of soldiers was about 3,500. Okay? So that meant you were going to be a casualty and, of course, a lot of those casualties happened in the rifle companies that did most of the fighting. So you can imagine the casualty rates there; 150, 200, 300 percent. If you were there any length of time you were going to get hit.
How many were actually dead? 2,131 Cotton balers killed in action. Another 468 missing in action and many of them, of course, are dead. So that tells you almost 2,500 Cotton balers lose their lives in the war. And for those who survive, of course, there’s other ways to be a casualty, PTSD, just the baggage that comes from this kind of combat that you carry with you the rest of your life; 10 years, 60 years, 70 years, it doesn’t matter there.
I would argue that no unit suffers more, sacrifices more in World War II. In fact, as long a history the 7th had had this is by far the bloodiest war, suffered more casualties than in all their previous wars combined. World War II is seminal moment in that respect and I would argue that no unit contributes more to the defeat of Nazi Germany. And that’s the last point I’ll throw at you. If you have questions, I’d love to entertain them, please, do fire away. Otherwise, I would be glad to sign books or do whatever.
Thank you. Appreciate it.