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Battle of hill 317 Mortain France 8/8/44

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1944 Following the American break out from Normandy in July, 1944, the Germans decided that the only way to stop the Allied advance and push them back to the sea was to launch a massive attack in the Avranches region, about 150 miles west of Paris.

 

To do this they moved tanks and men of the XLVII Panzer Corps into place and opened their operation on August 7th. Their main thrust, lead by the 2nd SS Panzer Division, was to cut the American line between Normandy and Brittany, forcing the two groups to fall back on different beach areas, possibly compelling at least one group to withdraw.

 

But almost immediately the Germans were blocked by determined resistance. On Hill 317, near the village of Mortain, their advance was stopped by 700 men of North Carolina’s 2nd Battalion, 120th Infantry, 30th Infantry Division (which also included Guard units from SC and TN). Firing at almost point-blank range their one anti-tank gun and numerous anti-tank rockets (fired from ‘bazooka’s’) the Guardsmen destroyed 40 vehicles including several heavy battle tanks. The Germans bypassed the hill leaving it surrounded. They launched repeated assaults to capture it but these were beaten back with artillery support from the Guard’s 35th Infantry Division (KS, MO, NE) and RAF air strikes on the German positions.

 

After five days of being cut off and with the loss of nearly 300 men the 2nd Battalion was rescued by elements of the 35th Division. For it’s determined and stubborn resistance in blocking the enemy advance the 2/120th Infantry was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

 

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Pt 317

 

A battalion of the 30th Infantry Division was cut off on the steep sided summit of Point 317 above the town of Mortain as the 2nd SS Panzer Division advanced through the town around the base of the escarpment. Despite being cut off for five days, the battalion refused to surrender. Constantly calling down Allied air and artillery attacks on the massed German armour on the open plains below, the Germans repeatedly attacked the battalion but were unable to dislodge them from their positions. But the Americans problems were not only caused by the German attacks. They had run out of medical supplies, batteries for the radios and were seriously low on ammunition.

 

Despite remedies as desperate as firing blood plasma to the trapped soldiers in 155mm artillery shells, the soldiers showed their resourcefulness, holding their positions until the German counter attack was finally beaten off. Here you will be driven up to the top of Hill 317 to see the positions occupied by the 'Trapped Battalion', shown the panoramic views the American artillery observers had of the roads being used by the attacking German Armoured columns, and the importance this small group of men had in stopping this desperate last-ditch attack to stop the Allies breaking out of the Normandy perimeter.

 

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Hill 317 view over the German Attack routes

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