Lt. Bob Davis, 29th Infantry Division, 110th Field Artillery D-Day thru VE Day.
War had been waged in Europe since Sept 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Here in our country, military preparations were being made and the draft was started. In Sept 1937 I enrolled in Iowa State College (Iowa State University) and was ready to graudate in June 1941, However, my number in the draft came up in March '41 so I made a visit to the draft board of Story County (Ames) and they granted me an extension till June, allowing me to finish my college degree. So on June 28, 1941 I reported to Corydon and with several other draftees took the train to Ft. Des Moines where I received my physical exam and had all kinds of shots. In a few days a large contingent of us were sent by train to Camp Polk, near Leesville, Louisana. This was a new camp with all new 2-story dorms for the troops. It was the home of the 3rd Armored Division and since I had two years of ROTC in Artillery at Ames, I was sent to Btry D, 54th FA Bn. This battery was to be the anti-tank unit and by Jan 1942 was expanded to a larger unit and became known as the 703rd Tank Destroyer Bn. During this time I advanced from private to Corporal and finally to Staff Sargent.
Under the terms of the draft regulations at that time each draftee was to serve one year and then be discharged. But as you know, the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941, so all of us were in for the duration. During the summer of '41 army maneuvers were held around Camp Polk and since we were a new divison, we were shipped to Camp Shelby, Miss. for about 3 months before returning to Camp Polk. By the Spring of 1942 I could see that the armored division was going to be a very rough outfit to be in, so I requested to be transferred to Officers Candidate School in Field Artillery at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. My request was granted and I entered school there on June 8, 1942. It was a 3 months course leading to a commission as 2nd Lt but I contracted yellow jaundice and spent time in the hospital and recuperation, finally graduating with class #33 consisting of 400 men on Oct 8, 1942.
After a 2 week time with my parents and family near Derby, Iowa, I reported to Ft. Jackson, S.C. the home of the 100th Infantry Division. Here I was assigned to the 375th FABn and received training in various positions as Recon Officer, Motor Officer and Ammo Train Officer. I was with this unit for just over one year when I was ordered to Ft. Meade, Maryland as a replacement officer to be shipped overseas. About one month was spent here and I had the opportunity to visit Washington, DC several times before leaving New York City on the Queen Elizabeth bound for England, about a 4 day voyage. We left the ship at Grenoble, on the west coast of Scotland and went by train to Bodmin, Cornwall in SW England.
Bodmin was the home of the 110th FA Bn, a unit of the 29th Division and I served with this outift for the rest of my time in the Army. The 29th Inf Div had been picked as one of the divisions to be the first to invade France so we spent all our time training for that assignment. We were training on the moors spending many nights outside, even making an amphibious landing at Slapton Sands.
On May 15th, 1944, my Forward Observer party consisting of myself, a radio operator and a telephone linesman joined the 1st Bn of the 115th Inf Regt at their assembly area known as H.M.S. Raleigh, a British naval camp near Plymouth. Here we received the plans and instructions for the D-Day invasion of France. It was also at this time that General Sands, Commander of the 29th Div Artillery gave each of us Forward Observers a knife that was to play a role in my activities later in Normandy. On may 30, we loaded on LCI-L 554 at Torpoint with the command personnel and other FO parties of the 115th Infantry Regiment. The ship then proceeded to Weymouth, the harbor of Portland where we waited until time to cross the channel to France. Finally on June 5th, anchors were raised and we began the last leg of our journey across the channel.
The ship I was on was a Landing Craft Infantry (light) and would accomodate about 200 troops in addition to the naval crew. No vehicles were carried. We slept in bunks and ate in a dining room, both much better than we would experience during the next several months. To leave the ship steps were let down on both sides of the bow and we walked down these.
Much of our time aboard the ship was spent studying maps and makings plans for the big day. Also, got in a lot of card-playing. We awoke early on the morning of D-Day and prepared ourselves to make the landing. All around us were many small boats scattering here and there. It looked like a lot of confusion to me. We observed much of the massive naval bombardment which we could not observe because the land was pretty well covered with smoke and it was also a cloudy day. I remember especially that the Captain of our boat was able to get the boat in very close to the shore so that we didn't even get our feet wet as we left the ship.
The 116th Inf Bn was due to land at 6:30 on June 6th, while the 115th Inf Bn to which I was attached was kept on call. Originally the landing was to be at Vierville but the resistance was so strong there and the beach was heavily cluttered with damaged vehicles and anti tank devices so our ship along with many others was diverted to the left (East) almost 2 miles so that we landed near St. Laurent. My party proceeded up the bluff along a trail that had been cleared of mines and we started to work toward the right in order to get to our original objective.
The guns of the 111th FA were to come ashore the morning of D-Day but only 1 of the 12 made it. All the others were sunk or destroyed. The guns for the 110th FA (my unit) were not allowed to land until D+2 so I had no guns to observe for. Later in the day we were able to be with the Fire Direction Center of the 32nd FA (a unit of the 1st Division) A few German planes came over during the evening of D-Day but did very little damage. On D+2 (June 8th) with my party I joined the 110th Bn in a position between Asnieres and Longueville. From here on for several weeks my time was spent as a Forward Observer with the Infantry. I would be with them in the front lines for 3 or 4 days and then would spend a few days at the Battery position at 3 to 4 miles back of the front lines. From my diary I learn that on June 25th and 26th I was with a patrol of the infantry doing firing and must have been good enough to earn the Bronze Star Award. During this period little progress was being made as the Supreme Commander Eisenhower wanted time to build up the forces and supplies.
Finally the big push for St Lo was set for July 11th and I had my FO party on the front line with the 1st Bn, 115th Inf. We were dug in behind a hedgerow near a sunken road just East of Belle Fontaine. With me were Sgt Sam Girvin, Pfc Harry Aites and T5 Anthony Allocco. Following a German artillery barrage about 1 O'Clock at night, the enemy came over the hedgerow and captured Aites and myself. After relieving us of our firearms, a German soldier started escorting us to their lines. When our Artillery realized what was going on and failing to reach my FO party by either phone or radio, they started firing and didn't let up till dawn. After going about 100 to 200 yards, our artillery started falling around us and the German soldier motioned for us to find a place to hide. When neither Aites nor I could find anything, he turned his back to us to try to find a hole. This gave us the opportunity to jump on him, with Aites using his helmet to batter him and I used the knife (I mentioned earlier) to stab him. After making sure he was no longer a threat to us, Harry Aites and I worked our way back to our artillery Bn. Girvin hid in his foxhole until later but Allocco was captured and remained a prisoner till the end of the war.
Action continued following this with the capture of St Lo and then South and East to Vire, Tinchebray and Mortain. Finally on Aug 16th the 29th went into a rest area having been in continous action since June 6th. Aug 22 was the start of a long move to Brest where the Germans were still holed up. Our first position was near Plougin, about eight miles north of Brest. The 29th along with the 2nd and 8th Divisions were charged with the mission of capturing the great port of Brest as quickly as possible. The action was hard and heavy and the Germans had prepared their defenses very well consisting of hedgerow country like Normandy , stone and earthen forts plus numerous pillboxes. During this time the progress of the infantry was very slow but I was with them much of the time providing fire on many targets that helped the advance of our troops. On Aug 7th I was on the front lines doing some firing. One of our Tank Destroyers was operating near by when he drew German artillery fire. Whent he TD withdrew he broke my telephone wire so I sent two of my crew to fix it, Harry Aites and Andrew Schultz. Some rounds caught them causing head wounds on Harry and leg and arm wounds on Andrew. They were evacuated and Harry died Sept 10th. He was one of my best men and I thought a lot of him.
One of the main forts guarding Brest was Fort Montbarery and it caused our troops a lot of trouble. On Sept 15th the 1st Bn advances to the left of the Fort and I fire a barrage in front of our troops and as soon as the firing is over the infantry moves in and captures the fort getting about 200 prisoners from bunkers close to the fort. On our trip to France in 1990 it was my pleasure to meet the commander of the troops in the above engagement, Sgt Charles Hardestry from Ballwin, MO. Finally on Sept 18th the Germans surrendered with the final count of enemy involved of close to 50,000 men. During the next few days we had a chance to observe the submarine pens and found them badly damaged but they had given our navy and shipping a lot of grief over the past several years with their sub attacks. Now we had a chance to rest and ready ourselves and our equipment for the long motor trip to catch up with the main army forces just over the border in Holland. Covering 650 miles in four days time we traveled thru Reenes, Chartes, St. Quentin and end up in Oud Valkenburg, Holland. On the third day we stopped right in the middle of Paris to have our lunch (Probably K-Rations) and enjoyed visiting with the many civilians. Until Oct 3rd I am busy as a FO helping the infantry to advance thru many of the small towns in Germany. We are now in an area that is rather level and without the Hedgerows like Normandy.
October 3rd was my last duty as FO and I reported to Service Battery as the Bn Ammo Officer and on Nov 3rd the Bn Motor Officer. For the next months I did many things such as taking trucks to haul ammuniton from depots to the firing batteries, locating and distributing recreation equipment, arranging movies, etc for the troops and conducting motor maintenance classes. Was able during this time to visti Brussels and Paris plus a couple of smaller towns in Holland. About Oct 23rd the Btry moves to their first position in German at Palenburg and about Nov 21 we were allowed to take over buildings to stay out of the weather which was much better than sleeping in a trench. Supplies and personnel were being built up during Nov and Dec in order to make the big push into Germany. All was going well until the Germans mounted a big offensive in the Ardennes much to the south of the 29th. To counter this move, divisons were pulled out and sent to the south till the 29th was covering a front line normally held by several divisions. After the Battle of the Bulge was contained, units were returned to their original positions and plans were made for the crossing of the Roer River and the caputre of Julich and a few days later the capture of Munchen-Gladback at the west end of the Ruhr Valley and the industrial complex. Finally we cross the Rhine River by a pontoon bridge on March 30 near Rhineburg. My activities during this time was to keep the trucks and jeeps operating and to have some recreation for the troops. From March 16 to 21 I am in Paris for a 72 hour pass and see some of the sights of that great city. Have the good forutne to run into Captain Hyde who I had known in the 100th Div at Ft. Jackson.
Later in March our artillery follows the infantry from Munchen-Gladback to the vicinity of Munster and then in early April we were assigned the duty of helping to clear Allied Prisoners-of-War and displaced persons from the highways and taking them to collection areas. For this we worked out of Wesel near the Rhine R. About April 20th I leave with a Rcn party for Nordhausen and see a lot of Germany but find out our mission is not to be there so return to our Battery which by that time was near Hannover. The engagement is rapidly winding down now and we keep following the infatnry till we arive at Gusborn on the Elbe River with the Russians on the other side. As another one of my duties I was appointed summary Military court officer to handle some of the troubles the German civilians were constantly bringing to us. Mostly about items that displaced persons had taken. About May 3rd we go into a position 2 miles South of Freckenhorst near Munster. This was where we were when the announcement was made telling of the surrender of German Forces on May 7th. Late in May the 29th was assigned to Military Govt duty in the Bremen Enclave so the the 110th moved to Rodenkirchen, a village on the west bank of the Weser about halfway between Bremen and the North Sea.
Then started the process of sending forces to the Western Pacific and returning troops to the US that had sufficient points. The 29th was originally slated to stay in Germany for Military Govt Duty so all men with high points were transfered to the 69th Div then at Markleeberg, Germany. This transfer took place late in June and I stayed with them until early Sept when the 69th transferred to camps near LaHarve and we sailed from there on the Santa Rosa which took us to New York. From here it was by train to Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, and discharge on Nov 16th, 1945 with 4 years, 4 months and 20 days duty in the Army. I arrived home in Derby about Nov 16th. Pay: Recruit-$21/mo; 1st Lt - $175/mo
Lt. Bob Davis