Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Defending France

The commander of the S-35 tank, sits in his turret, peering out from his cupola, across the Seine River at Melun. His tank sits on a side street stretching up from the water front. Tucked up as close as he can to a house, above him a sign for Lu Lu Biscuits basks in the morning August sun. In front of him he can see the island in the middle of the Seine, and on it the prison. He can also make out the bridge on the other side of the island leading to the opposite shore. Somewhere on that shore are the invaders, who will soon show up to attack with devastating fury. To his left he knows there's at least one more S-35, and there are another three Souma's in the town as well.
But the tank commander is German, and the five S-35’s were captured four years earlier. Soon the Americans will arrive and the battle will commence.

Today there is some question of where the S-35's in Melun came from, as records haven't survived to tell the story. One theory is from Panzer Kompanie Paris which had responsibility for the area that Melun is in. That formation had at least twenty Panzerkampfwagen 35-S 739(f). Another idea is that the tanks may have belonged to Sicherungs-Regiment 1000 or 1010, both had seventeen Pzkpfw 739(f) and were fighting in the area. You can see video footage here of two of the 1010's Pzkpfw 739(f)'s being moved out the way.

The Americans late on that August were sweeping south of Paris, and Melun was chosen as one of the crossing points on the Seine. Despite minefields, a forest, sniper fire and skirmishes (on one occasion a bicycle infantry company was encountered and overrun) they were making decent time. Their progress was helped by the FFI who scouted such minefields and guided the Americans around the obstacles created by Germans and nature. Eventually about 1400 they reached a railway embankment and could see the river, and the intact bridge. Seizing their chance the Americans rushed forward without any preparation, hoping to launch a force across the bridge and seize it before it was demolished. However they met a withering hail of enemy fire. Crouching behind the parapets with tracers and cannon shells hurtling past them the US soldiers were forced to withdraw.
They then deployed the US Army's tremendous fire-power, three full batteries of artillery began to shell the German positions for thirty minutes, and the airstrikes were directed onto the German front lines. After this preparation bombardment the US tried another push. Again a hail of gunfire met them and the US forces couldn't make any headway. About 1800 they withdrew to prepare for a full assault the next day.

The next morning about 0800 a patrol was sent forward, as it approached the Germans blew the bridge showering the patrol with debris. With the destruction of the bridge the US forces facing Melun cancelled their attack and switched to a holding fight. Later on that afternoon an assault was launched over the river further south to outflank Melun. However during the 23rd the US forces facing Melun were not idle.
Late on the morning of of the 23rd the Corps commander arrived on the scene. He was unhappy with the inaction of the soldiers there and so he started ordering and planning an assault. At 1400 much to everyone's surprise a very wet Frenchman staggered up to the Americans. Mr Pasquier worked as a waiter on the other side of the Seine. He had swum across the river in broad daylight to speak to the Americans, as he feared they would obliterate his home town. Mr Pasquier had been an artillery officer in the French Reserves before the war and this was to prove very important. He was able to give rather precise information on the location of the Germans and their artillery units. The Americans put this to good effect, pasting them with a concentrated twenty minute bombardment. Then the US forces tried to push forwards again. It's at this point one of the US tanks is destroyed by enemy anti-tank fire, it may be that the Pzkpfw 739(f)'s were responsible.
The attack appeared to have some initial success. The troops found that the demolitions to the bridge were not as thorough as they might have been and infantry could at least cross to the island halfway across. They were ably helped by at least one Frenchman, a young man named Robert Hugot. He performed the task of an engineer, arriving with planks of wood that he began to lay to help the US soldiers cross. However he was hit and killed while carrying out this task.
Now with the US soldiers on the island they began securing it, in the process they cleared the prison, and released a number of unpleasant criminals who fled back to the Allied side, and had to be rounded up at the expenditure of some effort by the US forces. By 2000 the fighting had abated for the day, and a lucky rain storm helped quell the fires that were burning.

The next day the fighting began about 0630, and slowly got worse throughout the day. The Germans tried to emplace a machine gun in the church steeple, however it was quickly smashed down by US firepower. During the day the US forces tried to get information out of the French civilians by means of signals, however as the French were civilians they had no standard means of communication. Throughout the day at least three Frenchmen crossed the river, some under German fire to deliver information to the US forces, one even made a double crossing. Eventually the push from the south arrived and the outflanked Germans were surrounded and forced to retreat, with at least five of their tanks reported lost.
The church before...
...and after.

The numbers of tanks lost is curious as some sources give the number as twenty. Which would be roughly equal to the number of Pzkpfw 739(f) that Panzer Kompanie Paris had. However the after action reports from the units involved only say five tanks were captured. It maybe that some post war authors are mixing the total numbers of tanks in Pz.Kompanie Paris and applying that to the total losses from this battle. What is certain is that only two Pzkpfw 739(f) have been photographed.

Image credits:
www.larepublique77.fr and melun77.com