STAFF SERGEANT RALPH H. DUNN was born on January 10, 1916 in Philadelphia to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Dunn. His early years were spent in Philadelphia and he attended Sharon Hill High School in Sharon Hill PA. The Dunn family moved to Camden in the early 1930s, and Ralph Dunn lived at 134 North 32nd Street, Camden NJ. Inducted into the Army in April of 1941, he was assigned to the 13th Infantry Regiment of the 8th Infantry Division. He went overseas with his unit in December of 1943.
Beginning in September, 1941, the 8th Division, then under command of Major General James P. Marley after a brief period under Brig. General Wm. E. Shedd, and already well through its preliminary stages of training, took part in the Carolina Maneuvers. For more than two months, a large proportion of the Nation's armed forces was engaged in extensive operations throughout the Carolinas, and the men of the 8th took a major part in them.
Then came Pearl Harbor. The Japanese had crippled the American Navy, and with packs of German submarines roaming the Atlantic, there was the constant threat of an attack against the American mainland. The 8th Division was ordered to patrol the Atlantic coast. For six weeks during the Winter of 1942, units of the Division ranged along the eastern shores of the Country from North Carolina to the Florida Keys.
Returning to Fort Jackson late in March, the Division resumed its training. During the following month, by an order of the War Department, it became the 8th Motorized Division. The 8th Quartermaster and 208th Ordnance Companies became battalions; the 8th Reconnaissance Troop became a squadron, and the 8th MP platoon, a company. Between March and July, the Division furnished cadres of 1280 men each to the 77th and 80th Divisions, and a cadre of 200 men for activation of Headquarters Company, XII Corps. On July 1, 1942, Brigadier General Paul E. Peabody succeeded Major General Marley as Division Commander. In September of the last year, there was a motor march to the area of the Tennessee Maneuvers. Two more months of war games further hardened the troops of the 8th. Then, after a brief stay in tents at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, the Division set out for its new station, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. From December, 1942, to March, 1943, there was another period of comparative calm. Again the Division changed commanders, Major General William C. McMahon assuming the post on January 24, 1943.
In March, 1943, the 8th moved to Camp Laguna, Arizona, for six months of desert training. During the latter part of this period, it was de-motorized, reverting once more to its original status as a standard infantry division. It was also during this period of desert training that the 8th Division Band was organized from the 13th and 121st Regimental bands. The band of the 28th Infantry was transferred to the 65th Division at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.
Upon completion of desert training, the Division returned to Camp Forrest. Preparations were begun immediately for an overseas movement. Late in November, the 8th arrived at the staging area at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. Then, on December 5, 1943, a convoy, bearing the 8th Infantry Division, sailed from New York Harbor.
Ten days later, after crossing uneventful except for the severe Winter storms, the Division arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Headquarters were established at Omagh, County Tyrone. The 13th and 28th Regiments were billeted at Ely Lodge and Drumcose estates in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. The 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry, was stationed at Shadow Camp in Fintona, and later at Bally-Northland in Dungannon, while the remainder of the Regiment was sent to Ashebrooke-Colebrooke, the property of the prominent Northern Irish statesman, Sir Basil Brooke. Other elements occupied surrounding territory, spreading out over an area approximately thirty miles square. This presented a difficult problem for supply, training and administrative supervision.
Training in Northern Ireland
Training in Northern Ireland was as varied as the limited terrain permitted. Greatest emphasis was placed on small unit tactics. There was an abundance of scouting and patrolling, with one third of all training conducted at night. A rigorous physical conditioning program was put into effect. Firing of all kinds was stressed throughout the entire period. Florence Court and Carrickawick combat ranges and the Gorton known distance range were frequently used. At St. John's Point, troops fired on anti-aircraft targets, and at Mayar, they were training in the assault of fortified positions.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the Division in April, during one of his tours of inspection of Allied troops. The Supreme Commander witnessed a number of small unit problems by members of the 13th Infantry, firing by Division Artillery and a regimental review by the 28th Infantry at Enniskillen. Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Third Army Commander, also inspected troops of the 8th Division in Northern Ireland. He commented favorably on a demonstration of an attack on a fortified position staged by the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry, on Sleive Beigh range. Later, at Castle-Coole, he addressed the assembled Division.
Every two weeks during the period in Northern Ireland, the Division sent seventy-five enlisted men and fifteen officers to the British 55th Division and received an equal number of United Kingdom troops for a two-week period. This was in accordance with an exchange plan worked out by military authorities of both nations. It proved beneficial from a training standpoint, and helped promote better understanding among Allied soldiers.
As the time for the invasion of Western Europe drew near, the training program was expanded to include battalion and regimental combat exercise, command post problems, and the study of German tactics. Elementary amphibious training was given to all troops. Some units began language classes in French and German. Several weeks before sailing to France, the 121st Infantry conducted a "dry run" of the embarkation. So secret and realistic was the operation, that the discovery that it was only an exercise came as a tremendous
On July 1, 1944, a convoy of four troop ships and twelve motor transports steamed out of Belfast Harbor, carrying the 8th Division to the continent of Europe. On July 4, twenty-eight days after D-Day of the Normandy invasion, the Division began debarking at Omaha Beach on the Cherbourg peninsula. Two days later, it had assembled in the vicinity of Monteburg, where final preparations for battle were completed.
Allied invasion armies, at this time, held only a few square miles of the territory of France. The city of Cherbourg had recently fallen, and the Germans were driven from the northern tip of the peninsula to a point a few hundred yards north of La Haye du Puits. From there, the enemy line stretched westward through Carentan and St. Lo to Caen and the Orne River estuary. German resistance in most sectors was heavy, even against already achieved air superiority.
The plan for the VIII Corps, to which the 8th Division was assigned, was to attack to the south toward La Haye du Puits. The 8th Division was to pass through the 82nd Airborne Division, taking over the center of the Corps front. The main effort of the drive was to be made in this sector.
Early on the morning of July 8, the Division jumped off on its first attack in the Battle of France. The 28th and 121st Regiments were on line, the 13th in reserve. A last-minute change in the VIII Corps order made it necessary for the men of the 121st Infantry to make an eight-hour march and go into the attack without rest. The first objective, the Ay River, was strongly defended by the Germans, and progress was slow. The Division had only advanced 1,000 yards, when enemy resistance stiffened. A counter-attack hit the 121st Infantry, but was repulsed with a night attack by the reserve battalion without loss of ground.
The attack began again the next morning. Again the enemy counter-attacked. During the afternoon of the third day the advance tempo quickened. There were indications of local withdrawals by the enemy. Troops of the 8th were quick to take advantage of this opportunity. Infantry elements isolated small pockets of Germans, by-passed them and forged ahead. Corps Cavalry then cleaned up the disorganized enemy elements.
During the following three days, however, the enemy continued to resist all attempts to break through his lines. German machine gun fire was heavy, and mortars were accurate. During a break in communications, the 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry, advanced approximately 1,000 yards beyond its adjacent units, thereby exposing its flanks. Before contact could be re-established, the enemy counterattacked in strength and badly mauled Company L. On the morning of July 13, the 28th Infantry was placed in Division reserve. The 13th Infantry passed through that zone of action and went into the attack for the first time. Progress was still slow, but on the following day, both assaulting regiments reached the north bank of the Ay River. Here, under instructions from VIII Corps, they held their positions.
The 8th Division had been through its first action of World War II. It had reached its first objective and suffered its first casualties. The territory it had taken was slight; the advance had been slow. The lessons learned, however, were many. Commanders and troops had become battle-wise to the enemy's tactics. Hedgerows had become as familiar as the hills of Missouri and Northern Ireland.
When the Division first went into action, artillery laid down a heavy barrage immediately before each day's attack. Soon it was discovered that this fire only alerted the enemy. The barrage was omitted, artillery laying down heavier harassing fires until the time of attack, and then continuing its support by neutralizing and knocking out strongpoints uncovered by attacking infantry. It was also learned that contact between adjacent units was frequently lost; flanks were exposed; and enemy counterattacks took a heavy toll in men and material.
Casualties throughout the action were heavy, as might be expected among troops in combat for the first time. The Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General Nelson Walker, was seriously wounded while at the front, during the second day of action. He died early the following morning. Maj. James P. Mallory assumed command of the 2nd Bn. 121st Infantry that spearheaded the attack of that regiment until he was killed in action. Lt. Colonel Augustine D. Dugan, battalion commander of the 121st infantry, though seriously wounded, refused to be evacuated until the action had ended. On July 11, the Division Commander, Maj. General William C. McMahon was succeeded by Brig. General Donald A. Stroh. Shortly after this, Colonel John R. Jeter and Kenneth B. Anderson succeeded Colonels Albert H. Peyton and Lester A. Webb as regimental commanders of the 121st and 28th Infantry respectively.
During the following eleven days, the Division continued to hold its position, waiting for the VIII Corps under which would begin a new general offensive. Artillery continued to shell enemy positions across the Ay River. Air bombardment leveled numerous German strongpoints. At night, Division Artillery lifted its fire to allow patrols to reconnoiter south of the River and to clear gaps in enemy mine fields. The 709th Tank Battalion and the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion were attached to the Division. Members of the 8th Division Band became combatants, serving as military police or signal company linesman during the period of fighting.
Each night, shortly after darkness, the enemy sent over lone aircraft, usually reconnaissance planes, which attempted to detect troop movements by dropping flares. Occasionally there were also strafing attacks. Enemy artillery continued to harass the troops, and on one occasion it became necessary to shift the Division command post to avoid the nightly shelling.
Finally, after several tentative dates for the offensive had been announced and subsequently cancelled, the attack was set for 0530, July 26. The line of the Ay River, from its mouth to the bridge at Lessay, was so swampy and so strongly defended that an advance southward by the 79th Division, which held this sector, was impossible. The Lessay bridge had been destroyed, and the only ford crossing the River was so heavily mined and covered by hostile machine gun fire that it could not be used.
Similarly, along the eastern flank of the line, the sector of the 90th Division, the ground was swampy and strongly held by the Germans. On the entire Corps front, only a segment in the center, approximately two kilometers in width, was practicable for an attack. This was the front of the 8th Division.
The VIII Corps plan of attack was to have the 8th Division push forward, overcome the strong enemy defenses to the south, and established a bridgehead between the south bank of the Ay River and the Lessay Perier railway. The 79th Division was to follow the 8th through this gap, fan out to the southwest, and take out the German defenses along the western sector of the river line from the flank.
Similarly, the 90th Division was to take advantage of the breakthrough by the 8th Division, by-pass the German strongpoints to the east, and continue to attack to the southeast. The success of the entire Corp attack depended on the ability of the 8th Division to break through the German defenses.
Both assaulting regiments, the 28th and 121st, jumped off as scheduled. The enemy established an observation post in the tower of a church which afforded observation of most of the Division sector of advance. Requests for air bombardment of the church were denied. Corps and Division Artillery fired on the tower for two days before it was finally relinquished by the enemy.
The 28th, attacking with the 1st and 2nd Battalions forward, met resistance immediately. As it advanced, its front lines became irregular, and it was necessary to halt for reorganization. A second attack penetrated the enemy's defensive position, and the 28th reached the Lessay-Periers road, making untenable the entire enemy position across the Corps front.*
* For their part in this action, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 28th Infantry have been recommended for the Presidential Citation. At this writing, recommendation has not yet been acted upon.
The 121st Infantry reported no resistance initially, but in the afternoon it was evident that the report was overly optimistic. One battalion had actually been pushed back across the Ay River to the original line of departure. It was planned that on the following day the 28th Infantry would hold its position until the 121st came abreast. At this time both regiments were to attack again.
The plan was carried out. The 121st, meeting little resistance, came abreast of the 28th at 1400 that afternoon. At 1500, the coordinated attack began, and the only resistance encountered was light artillery and mortar fire, and heavy mine fields. This day was the beginning of the mass retreat of the German Seventh Army.
The mission of the 8th Division had been completely accomplished. The 79th and 90th Divisions followed through the gap in the enemy lines, fanned out to the west and east respectively, and joined in the pursuit of the fleeing enemy. American Armor drove into the breakthrough area created by the infantry elements and began lightning thrusts through Brittany and Eastern France, which were to sweep beyond Paris to the frontiers of Germany.
Resuming the advance on the morning of July 28th, the 8th Division proceeded rapidly against light resistance, until it had taken all objectives. In the days immediately following, pursuit of the enemy continued. The 4th and 6th Armored Divisions had passed through the VIII Corps sector. Closely following them, in route column, was the 8th Division. South through Coutances, and Avranches the march continued, until the Division, less Combat Team 13, reached an assembly area southeast of Avranches. The 445th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, attached to the Division, assisted the advance by protecting the advancing columns from air attack. Combat Team 13, which had been motorized and attached to the 4th Armored Division, was sent ahead to secure the towns of La Jourdaniere and La Mourdraquiere. It rejoined the Division in the assembly area on August 1st.
During the following days, the Division continued to move southward, clearing out small pockets of resistance and securing road nets and vital installations along the route of march. Combat Team 13 was again attached to the 4th Armored Division on August 2nd, and transported south to St. Aubin D'Aubigne, eleven miles north of Rennes. By nightfall of August 3rd, the 8th Division, less Combat Team 13, had reached St. James.
On the morning of August 4th, the Division continued the movement by motor. Combat Team 13, having reached St. Aubin D'Aubigne, and discovering that the enemy had withdrawn from Rennes, passed through that city and occupied the heights south of it. By 1100, the situation was so favorable that the Division Commander ordered the remaining elements of the Division to move to an assembly area near Betten, slightly northeast of Rennes. By 2200, outposts were set up defending all roads and railroads leading into the city.
Until August 13th, the 8th Division, less the 121st Infantry, which remained near St. James under VIII Corps control, continued its mission of holding and defending Rennes. During this period, it maintained road blocks, cleared rubble and obstacles from the streets, and engaged in extensive patrolling. Although some prisoners were taken, no contact was made with organized enemy forces. On August 8th, the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, was attached to the 6th Armored Division, operating in the direction of Brest.
The 121st Infantry, under VIII Corps control, was attached, on August 6th, to the 83rd Infantry Division, and immediately began movement by motor to Dinard. Near Tremereuc, on the following day, it encountered determined resistance. Road blocks and heavy machine gun fire forced the Regiment to detruck and fight its way forward. Scarcely was the attack underway when the enemy showed that he was prepared to offer the most determined resistance. From concrete pillboxes, protected by formidable tank obstacles and numerous minefields and barbed wire entanglements, the Germans fought back. Enemy mortar and machine gun fire was severe, and several tanks were encountered.
On August 9th, the 3rd Battalion was cut off from the Regiment. For three days it withstood almost incessant artillery bombardment and repeated attempts by the enemy to annihilate it, suffering many casualties, but throwing the enemy back every time he attacked. Two artillery liaison planes flew over the position, successfully dropping blood plasma, and then collided in mid air, destroying both planes and killing all occupants. Late in the afternoon of August 12th, contact with the "lost Battalion" was regained. The Regiment then drove through the remaining enemy defenses, occupied Dinard on August 14th, mopped it up on the 15th, and reverted again to 8th Division control.
The Division, meanwhile, had moved to an assembly area near Dinan, where it remained until August 17th. On August 14th, a task force, composed mainly of the 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry, moved to the Cap Frehel peninsula, farther east in Brittany, to take over positions held by French Forces of the Interior, and reduce the enemy. It was joined on August 15th by the remainder of Combat Team 28. Before noon of that day, the enemy surrendered. Three hundred prisoners were taken.
On August 17th, the remaining elements of the Division began movement to an assembly area near Brest. There, for three days, operations were confined to patrolling. Then, on August 21st, the Division closed into its sector and awaited orders to attack.
At Brest, an estimated 50,000 enemy troops were trapped within an arc drawn tightly around the city and its port, the second largest in France. The German Commander of the port, Lt. General Hermann Bernhard Ramcke, was a ruthless soldier who had previously led the German airborne invasion of the Island of Crete. He was under direct orders from Adolph Hitler to hold out for at least four months, and had already refused two Allied demands for his surrender. The troops under his command included three German divisions, the 266th, 343rd and 2nd Paratroop, and a number of marine units and labor battalions. The defenses of the old city on the top of the Brittany peninsula were as formidable a series of strongpoints and obstacles as were encountered anywhere in France. They were bolstered by numerous heavy coast artillery guns which had been turned around to fire inland.
The three divisions of the American VIII Corps, the 2nd, 29th and 8th, were assigned to the battle for Brest. Tremendous artillery strength was brought in to assist in the attack. The Corps plan of attack was to use all three divisions to close in on the German defenders from three sides. The 2nd Division was to attack from the northeast; the 29th from the northwest; and the 8th was to make the main effort with a frontal attack from the north.
Shortly before midnight on August 24th, elements of the 13th and 28th Regiments, on line for the 8th, began infiltrating toward preliminary objectives from which the attack was to jump off. The offensive began shortly after noon of the following day. Before nightfall, an advance of 1200 yards had been made against heavy resistance. The next morning, the attack was resumed. In the face of an enemy deeply entrenched and employing intense small arms automatic weapons, mortar and light artillery fire, only slight gains could be achieved. That night Ralph Dunn wrote home. He wrote that he was eagerly awaiting the day he got to Paris.
Enemy resistance increased during the succeeding three days. After slight advances, the 13th and 28th Infantry Regiments consolidated their gains and strengthened their positions. They repulsed numerous counterattacks and sent out patrols to the south. On August 26th, Lt. Colonel Edmund Fry, commander of the 12th Engineer Combat Battalion was captured by the enemy, only to escape by sea and rejoin his battalion on the Crozon peninsula nineteen days later. On the morning of August 29th, the enemy in the sector of the 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry, called a truce to evacuate wounded. Previously, two companies of the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry, had advanced beyond their adjacent units, been cut off and captured by the Germans. Following the truce, it was found that communications with these two companies had been cut. Several weeks later, after Brest had capitulated, these two companies were freed by men of their own unit from a German prisoner of war enclosure on the Crozon peninsula, south of the harbor of Brest, and returned to their unit.
On August 30th, Brig. General Stroh was promoted to the rank of Major General. That day and the next, the 8th Division consolidated further small gains and regrouped. The 121st Infantry, which had been in reserve, went forward to relieve the 28th. On August 31st, the 8th prepared for a coordinated Corps attack which was to include also the 2nd Division. A road in the vicinity of the town of Kergroas was the objective.
On the following day, when the attack was begun, this objective was quickly seized. Besides cleaning out strong enemy pockets of resistance in the villagers of Kergroas and Kergaclet, this action materially assisted the 2nd Division in the capture of the town of Fourneuf. Ralph Dunn was killed in action while serving with Company E of the 13th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division, during this action on September 1, 1944.
Ralph H. Dunn was survived by his parents, of the North 32nd Street address, 3 sisters, and two brothers. He was brought home after the war ended and was buried at Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly NJ on July 10, 1948.
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