MORTAIN, FRANCE -- August 5th-12th 1944
Written by Frank E. Moody
Encouraged by Miller J. Rhyne and John Hanratty
Frank E. Moody
2d Battalion,120th Regiment, 30th Division, Company F, 1st Platoon, 3rd Squad
The Battle of Mortain began Sunday, August 5th. At about 2PM we were attacked by 9 FW-190 German planes. They straffed our column entering Mortain and killed 5 and injured at least 50 of the 2d Bn, 120th Regt. This Regiment would later be cut off and have to fight separately for the next week, becoming the first "Lost Battalion of WWII.
I took my squad into town and there I met a Sgt. from the 18th Inf., 1st Div. who was in a house across from the graveyard. My squad relieved his squad. He had told me that the Germans were into the graveyard and
opened up some of the graves. We were then moved North of Mortain and formed a roadblock with half of my squad on each side of the road, South of the railroad bridge. That night was foggy and a German half-track slipped through our lines carrying a white flag. It was hit later on by an anti-tank gun less than a quarter of a mile down the road in Mortain.
The next night, our platoon leader, Lt. Tom Andrews, led us to Abbaye Blanche where we were stationed as lookout on the hill overlooking the train station. That night an American jeep came up the hill from the East. My BAR man, Harlin Grinder opened up on them killing the driver and an officer with him. He became unnerved, thinking at the time they were American GIs. I crawled up to the jeep under fire and discovered
that they were two SS soldiers, removed their medals as proof to confirm to him they were Germans. The next day, a train backed into the station and on the flat cars were several thousand German soldiers. The English Typhoons had a field day picking them off with with machine guns and rocket fire from their planes. After seeing how exposed we were in front of our anti-tank gun, we were pulled back to an apple orchard. The anti-tank gun manned by Sgt. Miller J. Rhyne and John Hanratty was located in an ambush location beside a French house where four roads came together. The 17 of us from F. Co. were the defense for this gun.
During the next five days, Sgt. Rhyne never left he gun. We were credited with knocking out 24 vehicles and killing 200 Germans. The Germans threw their best troops at us, including the SS from "De Fuhrer's Das Reich, 2d Panzer and the 1st Panzer Divisions. After this attack, we were called FDR's Elite Troops by the German press. That this time we did have a section from our F. Co. machine gun and mortar section. However, after one night they pulled back to Mortain. This left the anti-tank platoon and 17 of us all alone to fight for our lives.
That night, a German patrol came up to where these sections had been. A flame-thrower checked out every hole with his stream of fire. Soon after, he was shot and killed by one of us while he was urinating. One of my men by the name of Grogan mistook a German over the hedgerow for a GI and asked him which way was he shooting. The German opened up with his machine pistol and missed me by a couple of inches. In all this fighting, we lost only one man and had one man wounded who lost several teeth.
After all this, Sgt. Rhyne decided it would be a good idea to pull some of the dead Germans out of the road.
In front of his anti-tank gun there were at least 50 dead Germans and 15 to 20 vehicles. I took one man with me and began dragging the corpses into the ditches where the roads came together. One of my men thought one of these bodies was still alive, but because of the decomposing, I convinced him otherwise. Completely exhausted after this, we returned to the back of the house to our foxholes.
Lt. Tom Andrews, who was later killed in November, had come up to Mortain several times to bring us ammunition and rations. H was shot as he entered a German house in Often, Germany.
On Sunday, the 12th of August and one week later, we were rescued by the men of the 35th Division. All 20 of us from the roadblock of Abbaye Blanche, France, received the Presidential Unit Citation.
It is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog!