Author of Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, and Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy
The Autumn Offensive, November 16, 1944
Our Tortured Souls is the fourth installment of Joseph Balkoski's history of the 29th Infantry Division in World War II.
Selected Excerpts From Our Tortured Souls
FROM CHAPTER 1: WATCH ON THE RHINE
General Gerhardt’s impatience to begin was palpable. He was on the phone much of the morning of the 16th with subordinates, asking them if they were “all set,” checking on trivial details, wishing all good luck, and even exhorting some with a modified version of the cherished divisional battle-cry: “29, here we go!” Breakthrough would be quickly followed by breakout; the 29th Division would soon be on its way to Berlin.
But the 29th never came close to achieving its coveted breakthrough. So futile were its piecemeal attacks on November 16, in fact, that one bitter battalion commander claimed that “tactical blunders” and “screwy tactics” came dangerously close to triggering a disaster of epic proportions. With all the time the top brass had given the 29th to prepare, how did such a snafu occur?
The fundamental flaw in the 29th Division’s scheme of attack had nothing to do with Gerhardt, who certainly would have planned the operation differently had he been given a free hand. Instead, the determination of the highest reaches of the American command, notably General Bradley, to begin the First and Ninth Army offensives with a thunderous display of Allied air power, including Army Air Force and Royal Air Force heavy bombers used in a tactical role, forced ground troops to adjust their plans dramatically to meet the requirements of the airmen. Pilots could provide no help unless their aircraft operated in daylight and in decent weather. For nearly a week, the anxious ground troops had been poised to jump off, but endured one letdown after another as northern Europe’s habitual late autumn cloud cover and drizzle failed to dissipate.
FROM CHAPTER 6: THE MOMENTOUS NOW
In a special Thanksgiving edition of 29 Let’s Go, Maj. Harold Donovan, the 29th Division’s head chaplain, provided a front-page story urging the downtrodden 29ers to think positive. “Many a GI will immediately begin to compare his present set-up in the cold, wet mud with his comfortable home in the good old U.S.A. and shout, ‘Thanks for what?’ OK, Joe, here goes: Thanks for LIFE—if you can read this, you qualify. Many have lost all chance to enjoy this fundamental gift. Thanks for LIBERTY—curtailed, to be sure, for the present, but only so as to assure its continued presence in a sick world. Thanks for HAPPINESS—not that happiness we thought was so essential to our lives at home, but the deeper happiness that comes to man only when he has tackled a hard job and has it in hand… Thanks for PROGRESS—we are really getting within scoring distance of our goal. Remember D-Day and those tough stalemated days before St. Lô, and you’ll know what I mean… Thanks for a SENSE OF HUMOR—one of the wonders of the world is the ability of the American doughfoot to see a joke under the most trying conditions… Now, what do you say, Joe? Will you join us in a Thanksgiving that we are Americans? For after all, that’s plenty of reason for thanksgiving.”
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