7. July 1944: Ferme des Ormeaux (Meautis)
I wanted to know more about the operations Harry participated in and wanted to try to find out what he had experienced.
I also wanted to know where some of the rumours came from and I wanted to know why this man was so hated by many of his fellow soldiers. It became a startling journey.
First we have to go back to July 1944 to the area of Meautis, about 6 miles under Carentan.
On 4 July 1944, F company had to attack positions of the 6th Fallschirmjaeger Regiment who were dug in on the other side of a swamp. The company was attacking towards Ferme Les Ormeaux, which lay approximately 500 yards from the Line of Departure. The regiment (with 1stBn in reserve) was accompanied by one company of medium tanks that covered the swamp from a ridge. Heavy fog prevented a good view on the terrain.
Field artillery and three infantry cannon companies started a 15 minute artillery barrage at 04.35hrs.
The troops started their attack at 04.45 hrs. The first and third platoon of F company moved out through open terrain.
The observer team ran into direct trouble because the 300 radio was not working and they could not contact the Battalion. They only could reach the Battalion via tankradio. The 536 radio was also not working properly and could not reach the three platoons. Artillery observer of F company, Lt. Cobble, managed to get as close as 75 yards to the farm of des Ormeaux. The German troops had noticed him and started firing a machine gun. Cobble hid in a ditch. Enemy artillery and mortar fire started to rain down on the ridge behind the swamp.
Company H managed to bypass the farm, but came under heavy fire. On their left side, F company was pinned down about 50 yards from the farm. To the left side of F company, E company was almost annihilated near La Rayrie by German snipers and patrols. To help out F Company six tanks were brought up to the observation post, where they started to fire at the farm. The enemy response was devastating: mortars and artillery started to rain down on G company which was still in reserve 500 yards to the rear. Also 3rdBn, in the “La Chênaie” area got in trouble because of heavy enemy fire.
“In the Second Battalion, Capt. Fleming had the only communications to the rear. All other wire and radio communications were out and runners, who were sent out in an attempt to contact the regimental command post and the other companies, never came back. From the observation post Fleming could see the men crumple over and fall to the ground.”
In an exhausting effort, F company managed to attack the farm, succeeding in taking it for just one half hour: the Germans retook it after a counterattack. According to the story the Germans played an Al Jolson record to celebrate.
But one platoon of F company, around 12 men, pushed in against the counterattack and entered the house, bringing in a machine gun.
Many hours of trawling through archival documents gave new leads and I could get a better vision on what happened in and around the farm with the platoons of F company.
As said before, the first and third platoon moved out in the open field, with the second platoon and the observation team behind them, directly followed by the tanks who started to shoot at the farm. Behind the observation team was the command group, with an Executive officer, the 1st Sergeant, the platoon messengers, basics and company runners. The teams crossed the second swamp and reached the rear of the house where there was a garden. The second platoon cleared the house.
At the same time the first platoon was pinned down and was not able to move. The second platoon sent out two squads to support the 1st platoon. Unfortunately they too got pinned down by enemy fire about 50 yards in front of the house. The remaining platoon stayed with the observer team. Word came in that the third platoon (Harry’s platoon) also was in trouble and under direct enemy fire that kept them pinned down too.
Supporting mortar fire was not possible because the troops were too close to the enemy lines and other enemy troops were not visible because they were dug in very well and there was too much mist.
In the garden, the men came under 88mm fire. Platoon leader of the 2nd platoon, 2nd Lt. Jean Koumjian, made a dash to the door, tearing up his biceps. Although supporting troops were trying to catch up with the men, they could not reach the house because of the intense fire.
The men were trapped: 21 guys, including 12 men from the 2nd platoon and 6 men from HQ, the platoon sergeant of the 2nd platoon, one officer and one enlisted man from Heavy Weapons. At one point the whole situation was hopeless and one man, David Manzella, volunteered to run all the way back as a messenger. He succeeded in reaching the rear.
A bit later, several men of the two squads of the second platoon came in who had escaped their pinned down positions. They reported many casualties. Another six men entered the house when all of sudden 7 Germans (another statement mentions 40 Germans) appeared right in front of the house. Platoon Sgt. Earle Leslie grabbed his gun and mowed down three of them. The other three were shot down by another man (This could have been Lt. Mitchell who was with them). During the shooting, apparently most men of the HQ platoon took off, leaving the radios behind.
All things went quiet for a while until Sgt. Larry Dalton killed a German who carried a schmeisser.
The men wanted to know the situation of the squads who were out in the open and they sent out a couple of medics. It turned out that of the twelve men ten of them were dead and the other two were seriously wounded. Totally outnumbered, the men decided to fall back to their line of departure. Around 09.00 PM the soldiers escaped the house under small arms fire. When they reached the foot of the hill they found remnants of F and H company. All men disposed themselves of all possible weight and when the signal was given they started to run towards the Line of Departure. This was the moment the Germans waited for and they opened up with heavy fire.
The 4th of July was a dreadful day and many men were killed in action and wounded in action.
When we look at the morning reports we see the name of Pfc. Carl Ward, one of the platoon members of Harry E. Shoemaker, who was later KIA outside of Ottré on 10 January 1945.
Although we have no clear picture on Harry’s platoon, we can say that they were pinned down in an open field and could not reach their objective. Was this horrible event the reason why Harry was evacuated on July 31 1944 to the 622nd rest center in Carentan, only 6 days later after his return when he was treated for his sprained ankle?
I think it was.
But, what kind of hospital was the 622nd?
The 622nd Rest Center of the 134th Medical Group ran a psychiatric hospital.
The psychiatrists of the evacuation hospitals were to provide the professional service to the patients. The hospital was situated at Holgate Street in Carentan, in the Hotel Durand Borderie-Énouf.
When patients were brought in they had to follow several stages as treatment. First there was admission with a brief recording of the patient’s history, a physical examination and a triage completed. After this the patient was observed and a more psychiatric study was done and treatment started. In selected cases hypnosis of pentothal sodium exploration was done. Patients remained in this section for 24 hours.
The majority of the patients were treated with Narco-therapy: with sodium amytal they were put deeply asleep for the duration of 39-40 hours. Sodium amytal was used in World War Two for the treatment of ‘hysteria’. It has sedative-hypnotic properties that were used to calm patients.
In the next phase of treatment the patients were separated from the rest of the hospital and so arranged that soldiers resumed a military rather than a patient status. The men had a lot of physical exercise and group and individual psychotherapy. In this section a final evaluation of the patient’s mental and emotional status was made and a suitable disposition of the man determined. The soldier returning to duty received new clothes and equipment.
In the next section of the “Report of Operations” I found something interesting:
“ Disposition of Treated Cases.
(a) Duty. The expeditious return of treated patients to their original units was not consistently recognized as an important therapeutic measure. It was expected that 10 – 15 % of patients discharged to duty as asymptomatic would develop symptoms on rejoining their unit or even on reaching the division clearing station. This occasionally was the cause for the expression of exaggerated distress on the part of the unit surgeon or commander, with the result that antagonistic (hostile; BK) attitudes were developed toward the problem as a whole and toward the returning soldier in particular.”
We don’t have any written statement as to what the reason was that Harry was sent to this hospital. The fact that he was taken off duty after being back on the line just one week with his company and staying in this hospital for about 9 weeks, is suggesting the man was suffering mentally, quite possibly from battle fatigue.
On 8 October 1944 he was assigned back to F company and joined them from the 53rd Replacement Battalion. The 331st regiment had entered Luxembourg.
What had happened in France that caused this hospitalization for 9 weeks? And in what way did the events affect him? Was Harry Shoemaker still capable enough to lead his units again? What did the other men think of this?
This sent my research in a very different direction.
I was looking at a troubled man, a man who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.
© Bob Konings