The Devels cross the Meuse River, September 1944

In Belgium, the Allied troops in the south part were confronted to a huge natural obstacle: the Meuse River. The 60th Infantry Regiment was one of the regiment who had to cross it first, to establish a bridgehead on the east bank, so that the Red Ball Express could use bridges to continue their supply operations towards Germany. The “Devels” took part there to one of the worst battle that its men had to face since their landing in North-Africa, on 8 November 1942. Strangely, nobody knows that operation…

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Colonel Jess L. Gibney (later on during his affectation to the 28th Infantry Division)

Colonel Jesse L. Gibney’s 60th Infantry was ordered to cross the Meuse River at two crossing sites located in the first part, between the towns of Givet and Dinant. But since 5 September, plans had changed: only one site is practicable since the 2nd Battalion is almost destroyed by enemy counter-attacks coming from Mesnil-Saint-Blaize. It must be noticed that the 2nd Battalion is commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Fort, that was wounded on 4 September and replaced by the famous Matt Urban, himself wounded on 5 September (Urban will receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in Normandy and during the Meuse crossing). These two wounded in action battalion commanders well-showed the violence of combats conducted by the battalion.

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Matt Urban, the incredible MoH recipient

On the same day, 3rd Battalion fights in a nearly hand-to-hand combat against an enemy infantry supported by self-propelled guns and flamethrowers located in Blaimont, on the high ground eastern of the crossing point. As the village was secured, in late afternoon, the battalion carried on its attack to seize Hastière-par-Delà, where it was planned to settle down a bridge by the Engineers. The battalion fought its way through the night from the 5 to the 6 September to take the town, and finally succeed in control it on the morning of the 6 September, allowing the bridge construction operations.

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Detail of two original maps of the area. The location mentioned in the article are circled in red. Click on the map to enlarge it. 

While Major Gail H. Brown’s Battalion was fighting for Hastière-par-Delà, Lieutenant Colonel Quentin R. Hardage’s 1st Battalion was crossing the river on assault boats, in the same area as the 3rd Battalion, and was heavily engaged by the enemy in the vicinity of Blaimont, on the morning, because the German had re-taken strong positions after the advance of the 3rd Battalion toward Hastière-par-Delà.

The regiment was in a really bad situation, and General Craig tasked the 47th Infantry commanded by Colonel George W. Smythe, on 6 September. 1st/47th Battalion had to cross also on engineer boats, in the same sector where 2nd/60th Battalion as nearly destroyed. All day long, Major Wendel T. Chaffin’s men fought hard and, thank to an excellent support of the artillery and mortars, the 1st/47th Battalion stopped the enemy attacks and became able to take the main road eastward. A very thin bridgehead is established on the eastern bank, which will be reinforced by 3rd/47th Battalion of Lieutenant Colonel Donald Clayman, which will attack later on toward North-East to secure the road east of Blaimont.

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Colonel Smythe, commander of the 47th Infantry Regiment

At the end of 6 September 1944, the bridgehead on the right bank is consolidated, and the first tanks could begin to cross the Meuse River in Hastière, while 3rd/60th Battalion progress toward the high grounds east of Hastière, to then attack South-East to eliminate any enemy resistance in the area. With two 60th Infantry’s battalions in the North and center, and two 7th Infantry’s battalions on the South, the division secured the southern part of the river before the dawn, on 6 September 1944, but sadly, with numerous losses.

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Note : Major Gail H. Brown was wounded on 6 September and died of his wounds two days later, on 8 September. He was born on 30 September 1916 in Sheridan, Wyoming. He attended schools in Sheridan and the University of Wyoming, Laramie, where he was affiliated with Sigma Chi fraternity. He enlisted in the ROTC and was appointed 2nd Lieutenant on 4 September 1940, then trained in Fort Benning and Fort Bragg. He was sent overseas and took part in the African and Sicily invasions. In November 1943, he went back to England then landed in France, with the division and took part to the campaign of Normandy. He took command of his battalion (1st Battalion – 60th Infantry) on 31 August 1944, just before directing the first column to enter Belgium, on 2 September (Able Company). He was buried in the American Military Cemetery of Henry-Chapelle, Belgium and still remains there. Lest We Forget this hero that died for our liberty.