Friday, February 07, 2014

Fullbore Friday

Who is up for a little USCG FbF? Something about a Coastie who commanded a Navy reconnaissance party that captured 750 German soldiers and freed 52 U.S. paratroopers in Cherbourg?

Via Richard Polk;
Walsh was the head of a unit formed to conduct a reconnaissance of Cherbourg. Cherbourg was the "jewel" the Allies were seeking in the invasion. Its port would be critical to provide the large volume of supplies necessary to take the war to the Germans on the mainland.

Walsh's unit landed on Utah Beach on D plus 4, June 10. Two weeks later his unit was in Cherbourg.

The following is from a collection of Walsh's recollections on the war called "Little Known Facts of a Well Known War." Copies are available at the Caroline County Library.

"On 28 Juen, Lt. Frank Lauer and I led about 15 men, armed with Thompson submachine guns, grenades, and bazookas into the arsenal.

"At the arsenal entrance we found about 25 American infantry men disarming a group of German prisoners. Here we were joined by an American paratrooper and an American private who informed us there was still strong resistance pockets in the arsenal.

"Among the Germans being disarmed, we found a German sailor who spoke some English. He had been assigned to the arsenal for three years. We ordered him to be our guide and informed us of booby-traps, mine fields, pill boxes, etc. He assured us there were no booby-traps, but claimed numerous mine fields in the harbor and many Germans left deep in the arsenal who had not surrendered.

"Over the next two hours we killed several snipers, silenced machine guns, and cleaned out about 200 Germans by using grenades and bazookas against the steel doors of the points … Many prisoners were taken near the power house and the E-boat pens which had been blown up by detonating piled-up torpedoes. The concrete ceilings of the E-boat pens were about eight feet thick., reinforced with steel rods. The walls were about four feet thick. When detonated, the walls fell out and the ceiling fell in. Several E-boats were burning in their pens.

"The men accompanying Lauer and I had been detached to march prisoners back to the arsenal gate. We continued to assess the damage done to the waterfront. When we surprised an armed German … (He informed us there was) a large number of Germans in a nearby bunker whom he thought would surrender. We let him go to the bunker and the Germans surrendered.

"There was one German in this group who could talk good English. He informed us there were American paratrooper prisoners in Fort duHomet, a short distance away, but he refused to go to the Fort, claiming the commanding officer was a madman who would shoot any man who surrendered … Lauer and I then discussed the possibility of entering the fort under a flag of truce to see if we could get the Germans to surrender. This would certainly be better than assaulting the fort with American troops, which would delay opening the port … We took cover behind a wrecked German truck. Crouching underneath the truck, we waved a white piece of parachute on a stick.

"After about half an hour, a soldier came out of the south entrance to the fort, looked around, and returned to the fort. In about 15 minutes an officer appeared under a white flag. The German officer conducted us into the fort … The German commander was in (a) room with approximately six other German officers … We informed the German Colonel that we had come to take surrender of the fort and we wanted the American paratroopers turned over to us. (The officer) was informed that the senior officer in Cherbourg was in the hands of the U.S. Army. He refused to believe this. He immediately held a conference with the officers present, at which time the English speaking German officer advised us that one of the paratroopers could talk German fluently, and that the commanding officer was going to get this man to act as an interpreter … An orderly brought in two Army paratroopers, one was a private and the other was a First Lieutenant.

"(He) had been wounded through the left shoulder and although he had been neatly bandaged, the left side of his uniform was still caked with blood … We again informed the German commanding officer of the situation and demanded that he surrender. He still refused to believe the American forces were in control of Cherbourg. We thereupon told him that we would take one of his staff officers into Cherbourg so that he could see for himself that the American forces had captured the town.

"The Germans immediately held another conference. The commanding officer then stated that he would surrender the fort if we would promise safe passage to him and his men to the German line. This we refused to do.

"He thereupon inquired if we had any other men with us. He was informed that we had 800 men in the vicinity of the fort. Thereupon the Germans held another conference. Finally the commanding officer said that he would surrender if we would separate the German officers from the rest of the prisoners. We told them that was regular routine and that we would do it.

"The commanding officer brought out a bottle of cognac and poured a drink for each of his staff. Lt. Lauer and I refused to drink with them. The German officer proposed some kind of a toast, where upon all officers drained their glasses and came to a 'Heil Hitler' salute.

"The paratroopers were ordered released and Lt. Lauer and I started out of the fort with the German Colonel. We got outside the gate when we met a Lt. Colonel and half a dozen men. We told the Lt. Colonel what had transpired and asked him if he would take over the German Colonel.

"Lt. Lauer and I then started for the vicinity of the dry dock and on the way down, we were greeted by the paratroopers, 53 of them, who had been prisoners since D-Day. They had been dropped by mistake in Cherbourg.

"They told us that the Germans had treated them fine and that during the bombardment of Cherbourg, they had been taken into the fort for protection. They also advised us that the Germans had seen the Navy Reconnaissance Party working their way through the arsenal and several times efforts (had been) made to bring machine guns to bear on us," Walsh said.
Captain Walsh made a full career of it, retiring in 1960 after service in both WWII and Korea. For his actions on D-Day, he received the Navy Cross.

Attention to Citation:
"Heroism as Commanding Officer of a U.S. Naval party reconnoitering the naval facilities and naval arsenal at Cherbourg June 26 and 27, 1944. While in command of a reconnaissance party, Commander Walsh entered the port of Cherbourg and penetrated the eastern half of the city, engaging in street fighting with the enemy. He accepted the surrender and disarmed 400 of the enemy force at the naval arsenal and later received unconditional surrender of 350 enemy troops and, at the same time, released 52 captured U.S. Army paratroopers. His determination and devotion to duty were instrumental in the surrender of the last inner fortress of the Arsenal."

Hat tip Patrick.

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