Task Force “Peter”
Lt. Daly’s first platoon was assigned to Task Force “Peter” which was under the command of Lt. Col. Snee. Peter’s mission was to simulate a portion of the 2nd Armored Division in a march across the neck of the Brittany peninsula to join the attack on Lorient.
With only one map, the convoy which was to portray the 2nd Armored passed the Sartilly I. P. at 0600 hours and made its way around Avranches. It then began winding across the bottom of Brittany, following a route that more or less paralleled the fluid enemy lines. The vehicles moved in an approach march formation with Lt. Daly’s peep leading the way. As security, the Lt. had with him Pvt. Horton Rupe and Pvt. Norman Russo.
At the city of Vitre, the order was given to “lock and load.” From then on it was Indian Country and anything might be expected.
As the march proceeded, the welcome of the people became more avid. The men soon realized that they were some of the first Americans in this part of France. Instead of asking for cigarettes and chocolate, the people were bringing out drinks for the troops!
The march along the glory road halted at 1100 hours just outside of the town of Martigne-Ferchaud. Here the convoy pulled into a large field, well off the main road. At this assembly area breakfast was served, patches donned and bumper markings stenciled on.
While these operations were going on, Lt. Col. Snee and his officers reconnoitered the vicinity and selected a bivouac site for the operation. At about the 1300 hours, T. F. “Peter” moved out of the assembly area with all the markings of the 2nd Armored Division and proceeded to the scene of operations.
The vehicles that moved into this area, four miles beyond Martigne on the road to Chateaubriant, bore the markings of T. D., Armored Infantry, Field Artillery and Medics of the 2nd Armored. The troops on the trucks had the armored patch on their left shoulder for all to see.
The trucks were no sooner in the area when the men of the 406th went out as security and the camouflores began the installation of the rubber items. The engineer security guards turned back all persons trying to enter the area and spread the word that the occupied fields were mined.
By 1800 hours, 10 Aug., seventy dummies had been erected and passersby on the road or in the air could not help noting that part of an armored force, tanks and all, was in the bivouac.
To abet the deceptive scene, Pfc. Al. Greenberg, Pvt. Ralph Stopper and Pvt. “Whity” Wilson were fitted out with M. P. helmets and arm bands and sent into the town of Martigne. Here they set up a central traffic direction post and Al. Greenberg spread the story, in his best French, that they were there to direct a convoy of infantry that was to follow up the armour. The other two men told the same tale to the few English speaking townsfolk who were very eager to talk with the Americans.
The three men found this interesting assignment further enhanced by the samples of wine and champagne that the mayor’s daughter and other citizens persuaded them to try. The trio’s account of the day’s work, when they returned to camp that evening, caused a rush of volunteers for similar assignments.
From conversations with the inhabitants, it was learned that the countryside abounded with German soldiers trying to make their way back to the German lines. Five jerries, that the local Maquis had put into the town jug, were turned over to T. F. “Peter.” Col. Snee promptly sent them back to 23rd’s “S2” to “give them something to worry about.”
During the operation, a band of thirty Germans was spotted moving some distance beyond the working area. The Maquis kept an eye on this band until it was beyond making trouble for the Task Force. Another group of twenty five Heinies located two miles south west of the bivouac area was kept under surveillance.
Knowing these facts, the guards investigated the slightest disturbance during the night. The first night nothing unusual occurred but fifteen enemy planes did fly over the area the night of Aug. 10-11, none bothered to circle the bivouac.
The second day Aug. 11, Pvt. [unable to locate the continuation of this page]
At 1100 hours, about fifteen engineers were sent into Martigne. They were instructed to act like soldiers on pass and enjoy themselves. That this detail was carried out with great thoroughness hardly needs recording. All fifteen men were recipients of newly liberated French hospitality. On the truck back to camp that evening, the conversation and laughter flowed like wine.
About 2100 hours, a French youth arrived at Lt. Col. Snee’s C. P. He had been sent in from Chateaubriant by Pvt. Abe. Gropper. The boy told the Colonel that he bore an important message from the F. F. I. [French Forces of the Interior] forces that were besieging Nantes. It was a request for reinforcements and was addressed to the Chateaubriant commander of the F. F. I. Since the lad was unfamiliar with the vicinity, he did not know whom to trust and, therefore, had sought out the Americans.
The Colonel sent for Pvt. Al. Greenberg and directed Lt. Daly and Greenberg to take the young Frenchman back to Chateaubriant to an address that had been secured by Pvt. Gropper. On the way in, the youth told Pvt. Greenberg that Nantes was being held by a fair sized German garrison which was opposed by a strong force of F. F. I. The French were massing for an attack but felt the need of more reinforcements. While listening to the lad’s tale, Lt. Daly and Pvt. Greenberg kept a sharp eye on the road side. The darkness of the night made the fifteen mile trip to Chateaubriant anything but enjoyable.
Upon arriving in the city, the harbingers found it as black as the countryside. They finally managed to search out the desired address. There an F. F. I. agent and a gendarme sharply questioned the messenger. Satisfied with his answers, they led the three to what was evidently Maquis headquarters. Here the guards on the door permitted only the youth to enter. It was apparent to the two Americans, that these men who fought the enemy without the benefits of the laws of war, took no unnecessary risks.
Presently an F. F. I. man emerged from the building with the message in his hand. He told the two Americans that the Colonel they sought was in a café and lead them to it.
Entering the candlelit café, they found a French colonel and captain sipping wine with half a dozen arm-banded civilians, including two attractive female agents. All were members of the French resistance movement. The guide walked directly to the Colonel and handed him the message.
Leaning closer to the table candle, the Colonel read the message to the room amid a murmur of approval. Turning to the two Americans, the French officer told them that the group had been waiting for some time for this “word.” He thanked them profusely and then ordered a bottle of fine Burgundy to be brought forth. A toast of thanks was drunk.
Downing his wine, the Colonel expressed his gratitude once more, saluted and left the café with the French captain. In a few minutes, the rest of the group strolled out into the night. To the two American soldiers, the final scene of this episode was so unmilitary that Lt. Daly remarked, “What a way to fight a war!” and then proceeded to finish the bottle of delicious Burgundy amid the flickerings of the candles. Two days later, the city of Nantes capitulated to the French Forces of the Interior.
Back in the bivouac, the night of Aug. 11-12 passed without any ground incidents occurring. In the air, thirty planes passed overhead at 2230 hours. Some of them circled the area but no flares were dropped. Midnight had passed but fifteen minutes, when Colonel Snee received the order to “fade” his task force.
By 0550 hours, the phantom armour had been completely dismantled and at 0700 hours, what had been a substantial part of the 2nd Armored Division was on its way back to La Fromonda. That is all but the 406 Engineers.
Col. Snee instructed Lt. Daly to keep his men in the area until nine o’clock. They were to make a great to do with the racing of motors and moving of trucks. While this racket was being created by the vehicles, men were sent out to inform the surrounding countryside that the fields were cleared of mines and free to enter. They also told the French that they were on their way to join the siege of Lorient.
Just prior to departure, the men whipped up a quick “Ten in One” breakfast. Its consumption had barely started when a burst of machine gun fire caused one and all to dive for their pieces and head toward the sound of the fight. The combat seeking soldiers had gone but a hundred yards when Lt. Daly appeared and informed them that the had been trying out a tommy gun. Assorted comments greeted this statement. Returning to their breakfast, the men found that most of the food had been spilled in the grand rush to arms. This caused more assorted comments.
With what was left of their breakfast finished, the first platoon loaded up and with much racing of motors left the bivouac at 0900 hours. The trucks moved south through Chateaubriant and continued this feint toward Lorient for about five miles. Then the trucks pulled well off the road and removed all traces of the 2nd Armored Division from the vehicles and personnel.
The changeover had hardly been effected when some of the locals appeared along the back road and offered eggs and wine to the gallant Americans. Time was of the essence though, the order was given to move out and the convoy started on its way again with the natives running after the trucks holding outstretched bottles of wine. The third squad truck was amazed to see Pfc. Joseph Palermo in the general melee that was racing after the truck. Joe finally caught the tailgate and explained, as he was being hauled aboard, that a “little deal” had delayed him. After traveling a mile or so, the convoy turned west and started on its way back to La Fromonda.