the reduction of the port of St. Malo, on the north coast of
Britanny, on 17 August 44, the VIII Corps concentrated its forces
in front of Brest for the attack upon that port. Two divisions
from the First Army, the 2nd and 29th Infantry Divisions, were
attached for the operation and the Corps Artillery was increased
from ten to eighteen battalions. A special task force, known
as Task Force "B" was organized at this time and it
consisted of RCT 38 from the 2nd Division, Task Force "A"
and some elements of the 6th Armored Division. Task Force "A"
was a composite force of cavaery, tank destroyers, engineers
and infantry and up to this time had been engaged in sweeping
the north coastal areas of Britanny and patrolling the entrances
to the Plougastel and Crozon Peninsula. The mission on Task
Force "B" was to capture the Plougastel Peninsula
in conjonction with the attack on Brest. Two battalions of Rangers,
the 2nd and 5th, were made available to the Corps and they were
attached to the 29th Division.
city of Brest and its approaches were heavily fortified by an
extensive system of defenses. The original fortifications, built
by the French to guard their naval base, were designed to protect
the port from both sea and land attacks. Heavy seacost batteries
lined the shore extanding from Le Conquet, on the western tip
of Brittany, to the city itself, while on the Crozon and Plougastel
Peninsulas, both heavy and medium calibers were mounted. To
protect the city from attacks from the land side, an outer ring
of forts had been constructed, the more formidable of these
being situated to cover the approaches on the west, or Recouvrance
sideof the city. The terrain dominated by these forts was the
typical hedgerow country of Normandy and Brittany. Within the
city itself and enclosing the installations of the Port Militaire;
located on both sides of the Penfeld River, was an old fortress
wall. This barrier varied in height up to 30 feet, and to 15
feet in thickness. The northeast and eastern section were the
higher and were protected by a moast, in many places.
Germans, during their long occupation, constructed new fortifications
around the city and on sites covering the town's approaches.
These works consisting of concrete casemates and pill-boxes,
anti-tank ditches, road barricades and extensive minefield,
were laid out in a well designed pattern and reflected the excellent
technique of the Germans in a defensive warfave. Furthermore,
the forts, and the ports and casemates of the old city wall
were equipped with modern flat trajectory artillery pieces and
exten...... field of fire were cleared for these weapons. The
new system of defenses, superimposed on the old, presented a
modern and formidable fortress to the attacker from the land
French system of harbor of the naval base were also modified
and augmented by the Germans. Many of the batteries on the south
shore of the Brittany Peninsula were modernized and re-sited
for allround traverse, to support the defense of the city from
an attack from the north. The batteries on the Crozon and Plougastel
Peninsulaq, not only covered the harbor entrance, but could
support the fires laid down in front of the defensive perimeter
of the city. The calibare of the heavy batteries varied up to
of the importance of the naval base and its submarine shelter
pens to the Germans during their long U-Boat campaign, against
Allied shipping, Brest was heavily defended by anti-aircraft.
These weapons varied in calibar up to 105 mm, and, since the
majority of them were dual-purpose and were permanently emplaced
on sites suitable for terrestrial fire, they contributed in
great measure to the network of ground defenses.
defenses of Brest were manned by some 40,000 German troops,
21,000 of these were rated as crack line soldiers, while the
remainder was composed of troops from static divisions, anti-aircraft
battalions and naval personnel. The nucleus of the defense was
the 2nd Paratroop Division, an organization of tough, young
Germans who were fanatical in their zeal for Hitler and the
Nazi cause. These paratroopers formed the centers of the defense
groups and stiffened the resistance of the other troops organized
about them. By this device, all the available personnel were
integrated into a strong defensive force. Lieutenant General
Ramcke, a paratrooper who gained prominence in the Crete operation
and an out standing soldier of thirty-four years experience,
commanded the troops garrisoning the Brest Fortress.
attack on Brest was led off by Task Force "B". This
force, after concentrating near Landerneau, lauched its offensive
down the Plougastel Peninsula on 21st August and captured hill
154 on the 23rd August. Hill 154, located at the southeast end
of the central ridge of the peninsula, afforded observation
on the city of Brest and the eastern side of the Crozon Peninsula,
and its capture was contested bitterly by the Germans. Even
after losing such a dominant terrain feature, the Germans resisted
every step of the remaining ground on the peninsula. Task Force
"B" kept up its drive and exhibiting considerable
aggressiveness, cleaned up the peninsula on the 30th Agust.
main attack against the city was launched at 13.00 on the 25th
of August, with three divisions abreasy. The 29th Division on
the West, the 8th Division in the center, and the 2nd on the
East. Because of adverse weather, heavy air missions were cancelled.
Medium and fighter-bomber aircraft however were able to support
the attack, and the mediums took over some of the heavy missions.
Warspite participated initially and used her 15"
guns on the coastal batteries at Le Conquet and St.Mathieu.
ennemy's reaction to the attack was severe along the entire
front and very little progress was made the firts afternoon.
During the night, the RAF bombed the city and the next day,
American heavy air bombardment attacked the batteries on Crozon
and the forts around the city.
ground attack was resumed on the morning of the 26th Agust,
but again stubbom resistance was encountered and few gains were
made. The next day, the 29th Division succeeded in advancing
its 175th Infantry to positions astride the Brest-Le Conquet
road. This completed the encerclement of the city, and cut ennemy
communications between the Brest forces and those in the batteries
on the southwest coast.
pace of the Corps attack now alowed materially, and during the
remainder of the month of August, the advances made through
the outer defenses were small. The period of unfavorable weather
which set in, with its fog and rain squalls, restricted the
use of the air arm, but the factor which brought the attack
virtually to a stand still at the end of the month was critical
every operation in which the Corps participated so far, there
never was sufficient artillery ammunition on had, or definite
assurance of a resupply in adequate amounts to conduct an attack
without a great deal of anxiety. This was true of the attacks
prior to the breakthrough in Normandy and the siege of St. Malo
was definitely prolonged by the meager supply obtainable for
that operation. It was regrettable that the Brest operation
suffered for the same reason.
necessity for large amounts of field artillery ammunition, particularly
when engaged in siege warfare against fortified cities, was
evident in the operations in Normandy and in the St. Malo siege.
Based upon these experiences and the realization that the Brest
operation would be one of far greater magnitude, requirements
which were considered adequate for the assault on Brest were
submitted in mid-August. Unfortunately, these estimates were
drastically cut down, resulting in a reduction of the initial
stockage of ammunition for the attack..