Friday, May 27, 2016

Memorial Day 2016: Ed Hamilton and the Battle of St. Pierre Mont


Jim Flowers, 712th Tank Bn., left, and Ed Hamilton, 90th Infantry Division.



   The most impressive orator and one of the most remarkable veterans I've met was the late Colonel Ed Hamilton, who was a fixture at 90th Infantry Division and 712th Tank Battalion reunions, even though he was an infantry officer (and a graduate of West Point at that) and not a tanker, but he and Lt. Jim Flowers of the 712th developed a bond that grew over the years.
   While searching through some old files in my "deep computer" -- hey, if the Internet can have a deep Internet, I can have a deep computer, can't I? These were files in a folder marked "system recovery" and then c drive, users, aaron and desktop, but they're not on my desktop, only on the desktop in the recovered files folder -- at any rate, I already forget what I was looking for in the first place, but I found a file called  "The Battle of St. Pierre Mont" by Col. Edward Hamilton. I'm not sure where it came from, but I think someone in his family might have sent it to me after his death in 2006. His obituary in the Washington Post is on the Internet, so I'll post that before Ed's description of the battle.
  
 Decorated Veteran Edward Smith Hamilton

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 4, 2006
   Edward Smith Hamilton, 89, a highly decorated combat veteran of World War II who later embarked on clandestine buccaneering adventures along the coast of China during the Korean War, died of pneumonia June 30 at his home in Annandale.
   Mr. Hamilton, a 1939 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was commander of an Army infantry battalion that went ashore at Normandy Beach on June 8, 1944, two days after D-Day. His unit of the 90th Infantry Division saw considerable action throughout the summer on its march through France.
   For his coordination of the defense of a key bridge in France on Aug. 5, 1944, Mr. Hamilton was awarded the Silver Star. A month later, on Sept. 8, he led a surprise raid on German positions at Avril, France, that disabled four tanks and led to the capture of 17 enemy soldiers. For his daring assault and his heroism under fire during the battle, Mr. Hamilton received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second-highest commendation for valor.
   Two days later, he was wounded in battle and lost his left eye. He was given a battlefield promotion to lieutenant colonel and received, among other decorations, the Bronze Star and three awards of the Purple Heart.
   After recuperating, Mr. Hamilton returned to his hometown of Dallas, Ore., in 1946 to open an insurance agency.
   In 1950, as the Korean War was heating up, he was lured back into action as a CIA agent in Taiwan, working with the Chinese nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek. Nicknamed the "One-Eyed Dragon," Mr. Hamilton led combined American and Chinese guerrilla units in clandestine attacks against communist forces on the Chinese mainland. His role in the covert actions conducted along the southeastern coastline of China is detailed in the book "Raiders of the China Coast" by Frank Holober.
   Mr. Hamilton was in Taiwan from 1950 to 1954 before he was transferred to Washington. In 1956, he was sent to Germany as an undercover agent working in counterintelligence in East Germany and Turkey. He left the CIA in 1959 and took a position as operations officer with the old Civil Defense Administration. He retired in 1973
                                                                                   

 The Battle of St. Pierre Mont

By Edward S. Hamilton 

   On 6 Sept. 1944 the 357th Infantry of the 90th Infantry Division moved from the vicinity of Vitry les Rheims to the vicinity of Anoux. My Battalion, the 1st Battalion, 357th Infantry, was ordered to secure the Eastern approaches to the Regiment.
   I did so with outposts. Early on the 7th I was ordered to report to the Regimental Commander, Colonel George B. Barth. I knew this had to be a move and it wasn't going to be West. I went ahead and ordered the Battalion to break position and assemble in march formation. Company B to be the Advance Guard.
   All this was being done while I was en route and at Regimental Headquarters. Now, I wasn't certain there would be a move and I surely did not know, if so, that the Regimental C.O. would place my Battalion in the van. But if there was and he had another Battalion in mind I had a good position from which to make a case.
   At Col. Barth's meeting I mentioned an article by then Lt. Col. Manton S. Eddy which was either in the Infantry Journal or another publication in which he related a WWI combat experience where a German unit was marching in column from one ridge to the next coming in sight of a U.S. Army Artillery observer who took it under fire, annihilating it. Col. Eddy called it an artilleryman's dream. We were in that same type of terrain which prompted me to hold the Battalion's advance from one crest to the next until the Advance Guard attained that crest.
   Col. Barth's order placed my Battalion in the Advance Guard, assigning me a Zone of Advance that included St. Pierre Mont, Neufchef, Hayange and on to the Moselle River. Leaving the Command post, I got on the radio and ordered my Executive Officer to head East. The Battalion was under way before I returned. Our route of advance followed a road that took us East but at a point due West of St. Pierre Mont the road obviously continued NE toward Trieux. I ordered Capt. Burrows G. Stevens, B Company Commander, to depart the road, move cross country through a wooded area and seize St. Pierre Mont, concurrently outposting the ridge immediately to the North. The remainder of the Battalion was to follow in trace.
   In an advance my modus operandi was to follow in rear of the lead company. B Company seized its objectives. The next element in the column was the Battalion Anti-tank Platoon. Emerging from the woods, it came under mortar fire, hesitating with vehicles and men fanning out at interval. I ordered this platoon in emphatic terms to move rapidly onto St. Pierre Mont and assume firing positions.
   As B Company was deploying it came under fire from a German artillery piece located approximately 1,000 yards to the SSE. This was direct fire with the flash of the muzzle blast looking right at you. I ordered up a section of two heavy machine guns to engage the cannon. The German crew had little stomach for this duel, quickly limbering up and disappearing into the forest.
   Sgt. Warren Wightman, leader of the outpost squad, deployed his men along a shallow brush line that ran west to east along the crest of the ridge. He sent his Assistant Squad Leader, Sgt. Alva Lumpkin, with another man on patrol toward a farmhouse to the NW. Lumpkin reported back sighting a German Platoon in the area. That Platoon launched an assault that carried all the way to the crest with the German Commander killed crashing through the brush line. I witnessed that action. From the distance it appeared to me that he was shot in the air.  Alva Lumpkin remembers it vividly. He never contemplated becoming so close and intimately acquainted with a German Officer. The Lieutenant landed on him.
   We captured a German ambulance that unaware of our presence was headed North on the road from Avril. I ordered A Company to establish a position in the woods across the highway to the East of St. Pierre. Surprise is one of the Principles of War and I did not want a German force moving into my front yard concealed by the forest. That night the Germans launched a mechanized attack or probe against St. Pierre from East Northeast which was repulsed, leaving one mechanized carrier disabled. At around 0200 in the morning I heard heavy traffic to the NE on the road between Fontoy and Trieux located to our North. I got Lt. Joseph McDonald, my Artillery Liaison Officer, from the 343 Field Artillery Battalion, who had scaled the medieval colombier for an Observation Post to lay interdiction fire on this highway. Any effect? We could not tell.
   The morning of 8 September I was ordered to continue the advance. I placed A Company in the Advance Guard and entered the woods on an unimproved road at a point where the German Artillery piece was located the previous day. I moved up along the column and for a short time walked with the point squad. I would probably flunk tactics 101 for that. But sometimes considerations of leadership take precedence.
   After the Battalion had been moving through the woods for about an hour, I received an order to counter-march and reoccupy my previous positions. On attaining the western edge of the woods I observed German artillery fire falling on these positions. Sensing I would sustain undue casualties in this course of action, I requested permission from the Regimental Commander to occupy positions on Hill 313 immediately South of St. Pierre Mont. Ten meters higher elevation than St. Pierre Mont, the terrain was shaped like a reversed L with the shorter leg parallel to the woods where I was standing. Col. Barth granted permission. I ordered C and A companies onto the forward slope, C Company on the West and A Company on the East, B Company in Reserve on the reverse slope.
   The Battalion was now deployed facing North with A Company's right flank refused, resting on the shorter leg of the L facing the woods. The Battalion was commencing to dig in when lo and bohold, the Germans launched a coordinated Armored-Infantry attack in a West-Southwest direction. They were unaware of our movement and disposition. Launched against phantom positions, the German line and the sides of the tanks were exposed to enfilade fire from the Battalion machine guns, mortars and anti-tank guns. Those anti-tank guns were in crest defilade when the attack began and had to be mucked forward to the crest, where they opened fire. I saw one round blow the turret off a Mark IV tank. Lt. McDonald brought the artillery into the shoot. All combined with devastating effect.
   Lieutenant McDonald was on the Wastern crest of Hill 313 sensing and ranging the shift of German Artillery in order to bring down his counter battery fire. He was hit by an incoming round. As I was in the center of our line at the time I did not see him fall. But as I moved to the Wastern end of the line shortly later I saw a stretcher with the familiar reddish hair. It was McDonald, pale and motionless. I ordered the litter bearers to get him to the aid station as quickly as possible. It was too late. His counter-battery fire was apparently effective, for the German fire ceased. The gallant Red Head had fired his last round. The attacking force of the 106th Panzer Brigade was utterly destroyed. A wounded German Officer who had fought at Caen stated, "St. Pierre Mont on 8 September was far worse than Caen." There were 17 wounded Germans in the farmhouse on St. Pierre Mont belonging to M. Joseph Mayer. The Battalion remained in place the night of 8 September and resumed the advance the following morning.
   Before leaving St. Pierre Mont let us consider several features of the battle. It is often the actions of a small unit or a single man that not only influences the immediate outcome of a battle, but also the subsequent course of events. It is very easy to hypothesize such in this situation. Loss of the North ridge held by the outpost would have awarded the Germans with a fire base, the likelihood of its reinforcement, a fight to hold St. Pierre Mont, and/or to dislodge them. Such a course may also have eliminated the movement and surprise of 8 September, all costing American blood and life. I visited the outpost area later in the day. I gazed at the German Lieutenant lying supine. He was a handsome lad, blond with fine features. I wondered if he had already entered and was feasting in Valhalla, that legendary palace of heroic souls. Whatever else, he was a brave soldier.
   Already his boots had been removed. Perhaps, by the farmer from the house to the North-Northwest. In front of the outpost position lay the German platoon fanned out in varous positions of mortality, some clutching the German "potato masher" grenades, some supine, others contorted.
   After being contacted by Alva Lumpkin in 1997 I wrote a citation recommending Sgt. Warren Wightman for the Silver Star which was awarded in March. Alva is a very interesting man. Before returning to the States he went through an officers training course and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. Of course the German Lieutenant is firmly imprinted on his mind. He later became a trial lawyer in his home state of South Carolina. His father, Alva Lumpkin Sr., a United States Senator, was appointed to fill the term of Jimmy Byrnes, appointed Secretary of State by President Truman. Senator Lumpkin served from July 18, 1941 until dying in Washington, D.C., on August 11, 1941, perhaps the shortest tenure of any U.S. Senator in history. Alva's paternal grandfather, William W. Lumpkin, enlisted in the Confederate Army at age 15, serving briefly before the end. His great-great uncle, Colonel Samuel Pitman Lumpkin, subject of one of the Washington Times' great continuing Saturday series of the Civil War, who was also an MD, commanded the 44th Georgia Infantry and died of wounds sustained at the battle of Gettysburg. His maternal great-grandfather, John Waties, wounded at the Battle of Franklin, was a Captain in Brig. Gen. William H. Jackson's Confederate Cavalry. His great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Waties, a student at the U. of Pennsylvania, roomed with Temple Franklin, both of them residing with Temple's grandfather, Benjamin Franklin, at the beginning of the Revolution, before the Franklins departed for France. Waties was subsequently captured on the high seas, confined in England, escaped to France, and returned to America where he fought with Gen. Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox." Alva has written a biography of his Revolutionary Grandfather, Judge Thomas Waties. St. Pierre Mont is a long way and a long time from the swamps of South Carolina. Wedding cake and cordite don't mix. Joseph Mayer, whose farmhouse on St. Pierre Mont was in the vortex of battle, was scheduled to be married on 7 June. "The best laid plans of mouse and man oft gang agley."
   The only American soldier killed in the two-day battle was Lt. Joseph McDonald. I went to the Battalion Aid Station the morning of the 9th to pay my respects. He still lay in endless sleep on the stretcher. It was a grievous loss. He rests today near his hometown of Brownstown, Illinois.

"With a cheery smile and a wave of the hand
He took his leave for another land.
Yet you cannot say, you must not say
That he is gone for he is just away."

Edward S. Hamilton
Lt. Col. U.S. Army (ret)
C.O. 1st Battalion, 357th Infantry
90th Infantry Division, World War II

Ed Hamilton (family photo)