Overlord'S Blog: Crocodile, Lets Go!
Google, seems to have reached here. Just like their new systems have caused havoc on Youtube, there seems to be an issue with putting pictures into the post. So for today I'll have to include links. I will try to find a way to solve the issue. When I do I'll come back and alter this post.
In early September the US army prepared for its assault on the Fortress of Brest. The city was held by elite German forces, and had been fortified like every other port in the Atlantic Wall. To capture it the United States attacked with the VII Corp. As the US Army stormed into the grinder, the US Generals realised their troops might need some specialist help, and so petitioned the British. From the north, over 400 miles away, a single squadron of tanks was loaded onto transporters. While heavy duty Mack trucks towed their trailers. These were the Crocodiles of B Squadron 141 Royal Armoured Corp.
US Soldier in Brest
Some of Brest's defences were based on old French forts. A line of these had been prepared and incorporated into the defences. One, Fort Montbarey, was unmanned and was captured on the 11th of September by US infantry. During the rest of the day the infantry suffered heavy shelling. Then a counter attack overnight threw the US infantry back. The Germans set up its positions and defended them by force. Two days later on the 14th the US 29th Infantry Division had prepared for a set piece attack, but by then the Germans were also prepared. Fort Montbarey consisted of three layers of defence. The outer layer was an anti-tank ditch 40 feet wide and 15 feet deep. Inside that area was a mine field made out of 8" naval shells fused to explode on contact. The next line was more wire, earthworks and bunkers. Finally the fortress itself. A sunken road ran around the fortress, with dragons teeth behind that. The walls were made of earth and masonry and were 25 feet thick. Studded with firing slits for small arms. The position was also covered by 20mm AA weapons, that could be depressed to rake the defences outside the fortress. There was also a sprinkling of anti-tank guns. The Defenders themselves were elite Fallschirmjager.
The night before the attack a company of US engineers undertook the deadly task of creating an opening in the minefield. Working in the pitch black they had to find and defuse the 8" shells. All the while avoiding German booby traps. On top of all this they had to do it in silence, lest they alert the defenders. By the morning of the 14th two lines of white tape lay on the ground marking a cleared path. The US infantry were the first to test the path. After they had advanced a troop of Crocodiles was ordered forward to support them. Almost immediately the second Crocodile in the column hit a mine, the driver was killed and the rest of the crew injured. The tank was knocked out as well and couldn't move, blocking the third crocodile. So the engineers returned to their task, creating another swept path around the wrecked tank.
Crocodile tank advancing
The lead Crocodile continued forward keeping up with the infantry. With the Crocodiles help the infantry pushed forward and managed to get into the sunken road around the fort. The Crocodile began to shore up the position. Blasting apart German positions with its 75mm gun or burning those too stubborn for the gun. That Crocodile remained in action until it had used up all its 75mm ammunition, all of its fuel and almost all of its Besa ammunition. The Germans unable to tackle the Crocodile with the US infantry in close support, and unable to resist the Crocodile, began to surrender. With no more ammunition the Crocodile turned towards friendly lines to re-arm. Almost immediately it got stuck on a tank trap. Seeing their nemesis unable to hurt them, the German troops quickly re-considered and re-occupied their positions. By now things were looking bad for the battered US infantry, Then three more Churchill's arrived.
Unfortunately one fell into a shell hole, one got stuck on a tank trap and the other threw a track. Through out the rest of the day the Allied forces withdrew carefully, clearing the outer defence lines. They captured 122 prisoners on that day, which was over 50% of the defender's manpower. In addition they had knocked out two PAK 38 50mm guns and a 105mm gun. On the 15th the Allies prepared for another assault, eight Fighter bombers worked over the fortress, as did all the available artillery. Meanwhile other allied forces pushed round the flanks to isolate the fortress.
On the 16th the new plan was hatched. Under the cover of US tank destroyers, some Churchill MKV's and all the artillery the allies could lay their hands on a troop of Churchill's advanced on the Fortress. These then proceeded to scour the wall of the fort with fire, under the cover of this wall of flame a Churchill MKVII command tank advanced up to the fort's main gate. Its Commander was Colonel Roy Moss. Col Moss started knocking on the gate with his 75mm. After slamming a few rounds in three Germans emerged to surrender. Two were taken prisoner, while the third was sent back into the fort to ask the commander to surrender his position. Unsurprisingly the German officer refused.
Colonel Roy Moss
A point blank fire-fight then followed. The US forces manhandled a 105mm howitzer up to the gate and began to pummel it with fire. Col Moss remained in position supporting the artillery piece, while there he was hit in the arm and badly wounded. Col Moss remained in his tank, in position plastering the German defences with fire. Two more troops of Crocodiles advanced on the fort. They began to blanket it with flames. US artillery began to fire HE and white phosphorus into the fort.
Inside the fortress everything was on fire. Out houses were engulfed. Pools of burning fuel from the Crocodiles were spewing clouds of smoke. Through this the concussion of explosives rippled. The defenders were in very real danger of suffocating from the smoke and fumes. Then in a corner they found a box of gas masks. Quickly donning these they survived the onslaught.
US Troops with a Crocodile
After firing 200 rounds from the 105mm aiming over open sights, there wasn't a front gate any more. The US engineers detonated demolition charges ripping open holes in the forts walls. "29, Lets go!" was the motto of the 29th Division, and as they stormed into the fortress they found between 40-80 coughing, breathless, stunned Germans awaiting to surrender. A few Die-hards remained at large in the fort but these were soon routed out.
It was only now that Col Moss, almost unconscious from loss of blood allowed himself to be carried from his scarred tank to receive medical treatment. The US Infantry had taken about 80 causalities on the 14th, but miraculously didn't even suffer one wounded on the 16th.
For his actions that day Col Moss was awarded the Bronze Star.