Ken Beaton: The big breakout

Lt. Leonard Anker

Lt. Leonard Anker
Courtesy Photo

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We all know what happened on June 6, 1944. After landing on the Normandy beaches, Allied troops were slogging through the hedge grove country of the Normandy for seven weeks. Raise your hand if you know the significance of July 25, 1944? I see only one raised hand.

OK, sit up straight and pay attention. Operation Cobra was the plan to breakout from the Normandy hedge grove country. The plan began with 600 Allied fighter bombers eliminating any Nazi weapon of war along a 300-foot wide strip of land. Next 1,800 of the Eighth Air Force’s B-17s and B-24s bombed a strip of land 3.4 miles wide and 1.3 miles deep. A third wave of two-engine, medium bombers, B-25s and A-20s, carpet bombed the same area that was bombed by the heavy bombers!

The U.S.’s Eighth Air Force didn’t always have “pinpoint” bombing accuracy. Instead of bombing parallel to the American troops’ line, the B-17s and B-24s approached from the north, perpendicular to our troops.

Have you ever heard the term, “friendly fire?” Friendly fire is used to describe when we mistakenly kill one or more of our own troops. A mother who lost her son or a wife who lost her husband, doesn’t want to hear the term “friendly fire” to explain his death!

The Eighth Air Force’s friendly fire killed 111 and wounded more than 400 GIs. One of the 111 killed was Gen. Bradley’s fellow West Pointer and friend, Lt. Gen. Lesley McNair, the highest-ranking U.S. Army soldier killed in the European Theater.

For 16 days in July before Operation Cobra, the U.S. Army’s 29th Infantry, the “Blue and Gray” Division fought in bitter house to house combat to eliminate German troops from the French city of Saint-Lo. If the 29th sounds familiar, it is because they landed at “Bloody Omaha” beach beside the “Big Red One” on June 6, 1944.

Leonard Anker was a third generation Lovelock native. In 1943 he became a ROTC graduate from University of Nevada. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He was assigned as a platoon leader in Company K of the 116th Infantry Regiment in the 29th Infantry Division.

From D-Day to May 8, 1945, Leonard was wounded three times as he fought with the 29th Division across Europe in some of the bloodiest battles. After being honorably discharged in May 1946. He lost no time marrying Francis Burke Anker on June 10, 1946. They settled in Gardnerville and raised four children, Claudia, Shirley, Alton and Beverly. Leonard was a citizen soldier who had German shrapnel in his body when he passed at 87 years in 2008.

On July 25, 1944 at 1100 hours, after the carpet bombing, the VII Corp infantry faced intense German resistance gaining only 2,200 yards the first day. The German resistance began to bend during the 26th. The 2nd Armored Division, the Big Red One, the 8th and 90th Divisions joined the battle on the 26th.

They began pushing the retreating German army. By the 28th, the German forces had collapsed as Gen. Patton’s Third Army captured Coutances to begin their rapid advance of 30 miles a day capturing German territory.

Operation Cobra ended on July 30, 1944 costing the German forces between 40,000 to 50,000 captured troops, 10,000 troops killed in action with 344 tanks and self-propelled guns, 2,447 soft-skinned vehicles and 250 artillery pieces destroyed or abandoned.

Exactly a month from the beginning of Operation Cobra, Aug. 25, 1944, the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division commanded by Maj. Gen. Raymond O. Barton entered Paris from the east. Meanwhile the Free French’s 2nd Armored Division commanded by Gen. Leclerc cleared Paris from the west.

For several days before Aug. 25 male and female members of the French Resistance were dropping or throwing “Molotov cocktails” on German army vehicles and armor sending German soldiers to a fiery death. After four years of starving and suffering under Nazi hobnail boots, it was payback time! The resistance was motivated and mobilized to kill every visible Nazi.

Any French female who had been romantically involved with a member of the German army, had her head shaved at a public gathering. A black swastika was drawn between her bare breasts. Loyal Parisians would spit on the collaborators if they passed by within range. Paris was a sea of “Tri colors,” French flags of red white and blue. Vive la France!


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