APO 308, U.S. Army  
28 Octobre 1944   


          After 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.

           The 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.

           The 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 side.

          The 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 280 mm.

            Because 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.

           The 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.

           The 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.

           The 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. HMS Warspite participated initially and used her 15" guns on the coastal batteries at Le Conquet and St.Mathieu.

           The 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.

           The 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.

           The 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 ammunition situation.

           In 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.

           The 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..

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