Thursday, 26 August 2010
Liberation of Paris
On 25 August 1944, Paris, the City of Light and the final resting place of the Marquis de Lafayette, was liberated after being occupied since 14 June 1940. Much was made of the presence of the French 2nd Armored Division commanded by MG Le Clerc and the subsequent parade down the Champs Elysees led by GEN De Gaulle, but less was made of the presence of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and its commander, MG Raymond Oscar “Tubby” Barton, Class of 1912. MG Barton commanded the division from D-Day at Utah Beach to the Hurtgen Forest and until his relief for medical reasons on 26 December 1944.
His assistant division commander on D Day was Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who said of him: “Not only is he sound of military tactics but he is a real leader.” High praise from a general who would earn the Medal of Honor for his actions on D Day. Roosevelt’s son Quentin II also landed on D Day, after recuperating from wounds received in North Africa. Barton’s “embedded” war correspondent was none other than Ernest Hemingway, who once wrote to Barton: “You had one of the greatest divisions in American military history.” GEN George S. Patton said, “No American division in France has excelled the magnificent record of the 4th Infantry Division, which has been almost continuously in action since it fought its way ashore on the 6th day of last June; but in my opinion your most recent fight, when with such a depleted and tired division you halted the left shoulder of the German thrust into the American lines and saved the City of Luxembourg, is your most outstanding accomplishment.” Ernie Pyle described Barton as “a fatherly, kindly, thoughtful good soldier.” Barton was played by Edmond O’Brien in the 1962 motion picture, “The Longest Day.”
At West Point, CDT Barton lettered in football as a running back but truly made his mark on the wrestling team, which he captained as a first classman. Wrestling Coach Tom Jenkins often stated that “There ain’t no holt that can’t be broke,” but Tubby Barton put the saying into practice. Although mild and soft spoken, he virtually exploded during competition, devastating his opponents. He won the heavyweight championship in wrestling his second class year, but wrestling was intramural in nature at the time and received only sporadic coverage in the Howitzers of the era. One aspect of cadet life that received detailed coverage, however, was the lists of cadets who walked the area. Unfortunately, Tubby made the list for all three upper class years, but not Plebe year, and was listed as a “Clean sleeve” in the 1912 Howitzer. Since he is not included as a “Busted Aristocrat” as well, we may presume that he never had stripes to lose. He did much better as an officer.
After establishing a beachhead at Utah and pushing forward to relieve the 82nd Airborne forces at St. Mere Eglise, elements of the 4th Division swung towards the fortified port of Cherbourg, with the 22nd Infantry seizing high ground between the city and its airfield and the 12th taking the port itself on 26 June 1944. By 29 June, the airfield was taken by the 22nd Infantry.
As Patton’s Third Army massed in Normandy in July, the 4th Division played a crucial role in support of the Breakout at St. Lo. Then, the weary 12th Regiment was moved to thwart a German counteroffensive in the 30th Infantry Division area near Mortain on 7 August. The attack was defeated by 12 August, but on 23 August the division was transferred to V Corps, moving day and night towards Paris. On the morning of 25 August, the 12th Infantry entered the city while the 8th and 22nd Infantry crossed the Seine. The 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry reached Notre Dame by noon. Paris was liberated, but the 4th Division moved northeast as part of the First Army’s attack towards Belgium. The division swept past Soissons and Crecy, where, on 26 August 1346, English King Edward III, with the help of the longbow, destroyed a French force under King Philip VI during the Hundred Years War. After a surprise crossing of the Meusse River, V Corps moved on, liberating the Belgian cities of Bastogne and St. Vith, to name a few. The 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division, commanded by COL Charles “Buck” Lanham ‘24, was the first unit to breach the Siegfried Line on 14 September 1944. The 12th Infantry also seized a number of pillboxes along the so-called West Wall, but the terrain was not suitable for further exploitation.
Before the division was moved to the Hurtgen Forest in early November, MG Gerow, V Corps commander, noted that “the 4th Infantry Division has never failed to capture its assigned objectives and has never lost ground to the enemy.”
The Hurtgen Forest was a well-fortified, mined area that had proved to be a death factory. By the end of November, the division, despite a fanatical defense and heavy casualties, had broken out of the forest at Grosshau and on 3 December was moved to extended frontages in the relatively quiet sector in Luxembourg. On 16 December, however, the Germans launched the counteroffensive that would become known to Americans as the Battle of the Bulge. Barton ordered, “There will be no retrograde movement in this sector,” even though platoons often faced enemy battalions and cooks, drivers and supply clerks had to fight as Infantry. Although other challenges remained for the 4th Infantry Division, they were similarly overcome. And now you know a bit more of the story of the American division that liberated Paris.
COL James A. Van Fleet ‘15 commanded the 8th Infantry Regiment until promoted to general.
COL Russell P. “Red” Reeder ‘26 commanded the 12th Infantry Regiment on D Day and until severely wounded several days later.
Much of the material in this Gray Matter may be found in the Memorial Article written by MG (Ret.) William G. Wearer ’12.
There will be no Gray Matter on 2 September due to travel requirements.
Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire.
Please forward guest articles, comments and suggestions for future topics to JPhoenix@wpaog.org
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