VFW Post 4572 - Wetumpka, Alabama

Cpl. Neal H. Smith & Douglas Raymond Leonard

VFW Post 4572 was chartered November 15, 1945 in Wetumpka, Alabama.  It was named in honor of Cpl. Neal H. Smith of Wetumpka, Alabama and Pvt. Douglas Raymond Leonard of Tallassee, Alabama. Both of these heroes were Killed in Action (KIA) in World War II.  The men and women of VFW Post 4572 and the Ladies Auxiliary are proud to carry the name of these honorable men.

Neal Smith and Raymond Leonard

Cpl. Neal H. Smith

Cpl. Neal H. Smith enlisted on 7 October, 1942 at Ft. McClellan at the age of 20.  He was assigned to Company F, 309th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 78th Infantry Division, U.S. Army.  He was born in Wetumpka, Alabama, circa 1922, to Cecil and Winona Smith.  He had two sisters and one brother.  Cpl. Smith was listed as Killed in Action (KIA) on 17 December, 1944 at Kesternich, Germany.  He is buried in Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, Margraten, Eijsden - Margraten Municipality, Limburg, Netherlands.  He was awarded the Purple Heart for his service.

Pvt. Douglas Raymond Leonard

Kesternich

Kesternich is a small village, which in 1944–45 consisted of about 112 houses constructed in a method of timber frame and stucco construction called Fachwerk-Häuser. Poised on a spur ridge, the landform inside the village along the main east-west road is relatively flat. The land falls off sharply to the north into a gorge known as the Weidenbachtal, and to the south into a gorge named the Tiefenbachtal. To the east, at the end of the village, the terrain steps down quickly into the Roer river gorge. Surrounding the village along the ridge was a series of small field plots divided by the traditional hedgerow of the region. The houses were not tightly packed, but were surrounded by small yards containing many out buildings and sheds. The yards were often separated by another form of traditional tall dense hedge that is used as a windbreak. Defenders inside the village commanded excellent fields of fire.

The First Battle for Kesternich

The First Battle for Kesternich took place from December 14 to 16, 1944. This battle pitted the 2nd Battalion of the 309th Infantry Regiment and the 2nd Battalion of the 310th Infantry Regiment of the 78th Infantry Division against units from the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division, including elements of the 326th Volksgrenadier Division. This attack was part of a greater attack by the First Army's V Corps in an effort to capture the Roer River Dams that included the 78th Infantry Division as well as the 2nd Infantry Division to the south. The attack by the 78th Division interrupted Hitler's plans for the north (right) shoulder of the Bulge (Battle of the Ardennes. While it may be questionable that the Germans had enough strength to push the attack west of Simmerath and Kesternich, all plans were off as the American attack hit the German lines on December 13. As a result, the northern pivot-point of the German offensive was pushed from Simmerath to south of Monschau.

The 78th Division's Recon Company and its 311th RCT (Infantry Regiment Combat Team) had been attached to the 8th Infantry Division just to the north. For their offensive operations, they had their 309th Infantry and 310th RCT as well as the 709th Tank Battalion and 893rd Tank Destroyer Battalion. Since the key objective of Kesternich was considered a tougher assignment, the 2nd Battalion of the 310th was attached to the 309th, giving it four battalions. This left the 310th with two battalions for their blocking assignment at Rollesbroich. A storm the night before operations left 12 inches of snow on the ground. Temperatures were below freezing. A typical Hohes Venn fog permeated over the landscape making visibility difficult until mid-day.

The attack by the 309th Infantry Regiment was a surprise to the Germans defending the vaulted Siegfried Line and the American's quickly took Bickerath, Paustenbach, Witzerath, and Simmerath. In taking Simmerath, the Americans finally cut the Monschau-Düren highway and severed the Monschau Corridor. They reached the first few houses at Kesternich as darkness fell on the 13th. However, the 2nd Battalion of the 309th was unable to retain their small purchase and withdrew. The 310th was held at bay, unable to penetrate past the entrance to Rollesbroich. The advance had gone well on the first day and optimism for operations on the next day ran high.

The 309th resumed the attack on the morning of the 14th with disastrous results when the Germans pounded all attempted advances with machine gun fire, indirect fire from mortars, and direct fire from armored assault vehicles (Hetzer and SdKfz 7. The murderous fire on the 309th was relieved somewhat when the 2nd Battalion of the 310th Infantry moved on Kesternich after noon the same day. Neal H. Smith GraveThe tenacity of the German defense obstructed this attack and it stalled as darkness fell. Results at Rollesbroich were much better for the Americans as the 310th was able to fully enter the village, capture the pillboxes guarding the village, and began to consolidate their positions.

Soon after fighting resumed on the 15th, the 2nd Battalion of the 310th Infantry entered Kesternich in force at about noon to capture the village. Fighting past a bunker position, into, and straight through the village sapped the strength of the companies. They did not hold it long. Problems with communication, artillery fire control, and lack of cooperation with the attached tank and TD command plagued the defense by the under strength unit.

The German plans for the Bulge (Battle of the Bulge) were threatened by the loss of Kesternich. General Eugene König's 272nd Volksgrenadier Division had begun planning a counterattack the day before. Since they had been assembling for their participation in the Bulge, not all of his strength was available. What force he had in the area was put off balance by the American attack. The I battalion of the 753rd Regiment of the 326th Volksgrenadier Division, also in stages of assembly to the south in front of Höfen and Monschau, was loaned to König for the attack. His own 272nd Panzer Jäger Battalion provided the assault vehicles, and his II Battalion of the 982nd provided a second supporting wing for the attack.

The determined counterattack consisting of at least 500 Volksgrenadiers began mid-afternoon and continued until the early morning hours of 16 December. At first, the Americans held firm, driving off the frontal attack by the 753 Volksgrenadier Regiment. In a classic envelopment maneuver, the 982 Volksgrenadier Regiment infiltrated behind the companies of the 310th Infantry inside the village to cut them off from their rear. Those GIs sealed in Kesternich faced German Armored Assault Vehicles with no means to combat them. Outnumbered, with little ammunition, no means of combating armored vehicles, and cut off from their rear area, the fate of the Americans inside the village was sealed. As darkness fell, the attack by the 753 gained momentum advancing steadily on the isolated companies. Once the battalion commander was captured resistance to the resolute Germans waned. Nearly all GIs inside the village were driven out or captured as POWs in house to house fighting.

After the attack, over one-hundred and fifty German soldiers lay dead in and around Kesternich. While the American casualties were not nearly as great, they lost 300 GIs as prisoners – virtually the entire fighting strength of the 2nd Battalion of the 310th Infantry. In the end, the fight for the village was described by one GI with the simple statement, "Kesternich was very bloody." The attached troops of the 326th Volksgrenadier Division were returned to their division for participation in the Battle of the Bulge. With the knowledge that they didn't have the strength to hold the ground they gained, the German force retreated to the east side of the village by early light the next day. Only a token force at the bunker near the entrance to the village remained to guard their conquest.

On the 16th, a counterattack by Americans sent to re-take the village and reach any survivors was met head on with a German counterattack. The Americans had the advantage on the Germans in this engagement, but neither was able to re-take the village and both armies fell back to their respective outskirts of the village. Small back and forth probing actions by both sides were seen in the following days, but the fight for the village was over. It was a bloody baptism of fire for the green American Division. During the seven days of fighting for the village between 13 and 19 December, the 78th Infantry Division lost approximately 1,515 dead, wounded, missing and injured, according to the division's records. German losses in dead and captured, as confirmed by the 78th Infantry Division, were approximately 770, not counting wounded or missing.




Private Douglas Raymond Leonard

Pvt. Douglas Raymond Leonard enlisted in the United States Army on 30 March, 1942 at Montgomery, Alabama at the age of 24.  He was attached to the 507th Parachute Infantry, 82nd All American Airborne Division, U. S. Army.  He was born in April, 1917 in Tallapoosa County, Alabama to David Edgar and Nettie Mae Leonard.  Pvt. Leonard participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and was listed as Killed in Action (KIA) on 6 June, 1944, the first day of the initial assaults on Normandy..  He was reportedly killed before his feet ever touched the ground.  He is buried in Cambridge American Cpl. Neal H. Smith

Cemetery and Memorial, Coton, South Cambridgeshire District, Cambridgeshire, England.  He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

Normandy landings

The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front.

Planning for the operation began in 1943. In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a substantial military deception, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. The weather on D-Day was far from ideal, but postponing would have meant a delay of at least two weeks, as the invasion planners had requirements for the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that meant only a few days in each month were deemed suitable. Hitler placed German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in command of German forces and of developing fortifications along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion.

The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 British, US, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armoured divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The target 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beach. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha. The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making the work of the beach clearing teams difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, with its high cliffs. At Gold, Juno, and Sword, several fortified towns were cleared in house-to-house fighting, and two major gun emplacements at Gold were disabled using specialised tanks. The Allies failed to achieve all of their goals on the first day. Carentan, St. Lô, and Bayeux remained in German hands, and Caen, a major objective, was not captured until 21 July. Only two of the beaches (Juno and Gold) were linked on the first day, and all five bridgeheads were not connected until 12 June. However, the operation gained a foothold that the Allies gradually expanded over the coming months. German casualties on D-Day were around 1,000 men. Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. Museums, memorials, and war cemeteries in the area host many visitors each year.

Background

Between 27 May and 4 June 1940, over 338,000 troops of the British Expeditionary Force and the French Army, trapped along the northern coast of France, were evacuated in the Dunkirk evacuation. After the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began pressing for the creation of a second front in western Europe. In late May 1942 the Soviet Union and United States made a joint announcement that a "... full understanding was reached with regard to the urgent tasks of creating a second front in Europe in 1942." However, Churchill persuaded Roosevelt to postpone the promised invasion as, even with American help, the Allies did not have adequate forces for such a strike.

Instead of an immediate return to France, the Western Allies staged offensives in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, where British troops were already stationed. By mid-1943, the North African Campaign had been won. The Allies then launched the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, and Italy in September 1943. By then, Soviet forces were on the offensive and had won a major victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. The decision to undertake a cross-channel invasion within the next year was taken at the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943. Initial planning was constrained by the number of available landing craft, most of which were already committed in the Mediterranean and Pacific. At the Tehran Conference in November 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill promised Stalin that they would open the long-delayed second front in May 1944.

Four sites were considered for the landings: Brittany, the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, and Pas de Calais. As Brittany and Cotentin are peninsulas, it would have been possible for the Germans to cut off Douglas Raymond Leonardthe Allied advance at a relatively narrow isthmus, so these sites were rejected. As the Pas de Calais is the closest point in continental Europe to Britain, the Germans considered it to be the most likely initial landing zone, so it was the most heavily fortified region. But it offered few opportunities for expansion, as the area is bounded by numerous rivers and canals, whereas landings on a broad front in Normandy would permit simultaneous threats against the port of Cherbourg, coastal ports further west in Brittany, and an overland attack towards Paris and eventually into Germany. Normandy was hence chosen as the landing site. The most serious drawback of the Normandy coast—the lack of port facilities—would be overcome through the development of artificial Mulberry harbours. A series of specialised tanks, nicknamed Hobart's Funnies, were created to deal with conditions expected during the Normandy campaign, such as scaling sea walls and providing close support on the beach.

The Allies planned to launch the invasion on 1 May 1944. The initial draft of the plan was accepted at the Quebec Conference in August 1943. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). General Bernard Montgomery was named as commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all of the land forces involved in the invasion. On 31 December 1943, Eisenhower and Montgomery first saw the plan, which proposed amphibious landings by three divisions with two more divisions in support. The two generals immediately insisted that the scale of the initial invasion be expanded to five divisions, with airborne descents by three additional divisions, to allow operations on a wider front and speed up the capture of the port at Cherbourg. The need to acquire or produce extra landing craft for the expanded operation meant that the invasion had to be delayed to June. Eventually, thirty-nine Allied divisions would be committed to the Battle of Normandy: twenty-two American, twelve British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French, totalling over a million troops all under overall British command.

Operations

Operation Overlord was the name assigned to the establishment of a large-scale lodgement on the Continent. The first phase, the amphibious invasion and establishment of a secure foothold, was codenamed Operation Neptune. To gain the air superiority needed to ensure a successful invasion, the Allies undertook a bombing campaign (codenamed Operation Pointblank) that targeted German aircraft production, fuel supplies, and airfields. Elaborate deceptions, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, were undertaken in the months leading up to the invasion to prevent the Germans from learning the timing and location of the invasion.

The landings were to be preceded by airborne landings near Caen on the eastern flank to secure the Orne River bridges and north of Carentan on the western flank. The Americans, assigned to land at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, were to attempt to capture Carentan and St. Lô the first day, then cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and eventually capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. The British at Sword Beach and Gold Beach and Canadians at Juno Beach would protect the American flank and attempt to establish airfields near Caen. A secure lodgement would be established and an attempt made to hold all territory north of the Avranches-Falaise line within the first three weeks. Montgomery envisaged a ninety-day battle, lasting until all Allied forces reached the Seine.

Deception plans

Under the overall umbrella of Operation Bodyguard, the Allies conducted several subsidiary operations designed to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the Allied landings. Operation Fortitude included Fortitude North, a misinformation campaign using fake radio traffic to lead the Germans into expecting an attack on Norway, and Fortitude South, a major deception involving the creation of a fictitious First United States Army Group under Lieutenant General George S. Patton, supposedly located in Kent and Sussex. Fortitude South was intended to deceive the Germans into believing that the main attack would take place at Calais. Genuine radio messages from 21st Army Group were first routed to Kent via landline and then broadcast, to give Germans the impression that most of the Allied troops were stationed there. Patton was stationed in England until 6 July, thus continuing to deceive the Germans into believing a second attack would take place at Calais.

Many of the German radar stations on the French coast were destroyed in preparation for the landings. In addition, on the night before the invasion, a small group of Special Air Service (SAS) operators deployed dummy paratroopers over Le Havre and Isigny. These dummies led the Germans to believe that an additional airborne landing had occurred. On that same night, in Operation Taxable, No. 617 Squadron RAF dropped strips of "window", metal foil that caused a radar return which was mistakenly interpreted by German radar operators as a naval convoy near Le Havre. The illusion was bolstered by a group of small craft towing barrage balloons. A similar deception was undertaken near Boulogne-sur-Mer in the Pas de Calais area by No. 218 Squadron RAF in Operation Glimmer.

Weather

The invasion planners determined a set of conditions involving the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that would be satisfied on only a few days in each month. A full moon was desirable, as it would provide illumination for aircraft pilots and have the highest tides. The Allies wanted to schedule the landings for shortly before dawn, midway between low and high tide, with the tide coming in. This would improve the visibility of obstacles on the beach, while minimising the amount of time the men would be exposed in the open. Eisenhower had tentatively selected 5 June as the date for the assault. However, on 4 June, conditions were unsuitable for a landing; high winds and heavy seas made it impossible to launch landing craft, and low clouds would prevent aircraft from finding their targets.

Group Captain James Stagg of the Royal Air Force (RAF) met with Eisenhower on the evening of 4 June. He and his meteorological team predicted that the weather would improve sufficiently that the invasion could proceed on 6 June. The next available dates with the needed tidal conditions (but without the desirable full moon) would be two weeks later, from 18 to 20 June. Postponement of the invasion would have required recalling men and ships already in position to cross the Channel, and would have increased chances the invasion plans would be detected. After much discussion with the other senior commanders, Eisenhower decided the invasion should go ahead on the 6th. Subsequently a major storm battered the Normandy coast from 19 to 22 June, which would have made the beach landings impossible to undertake at that time.

Allied control of the Atlantic meant German meteorologists did not have as much information as the Allies on incoming weather patterns. As the Luftwaffe meteorological centre in Paris was predicting two weeks of stormy weather, many Wehrmacht commanders left their posts to attend war games in Rennes, and men in many units were given leave. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel returned to Germany for his wife's birthday and to meet with Hitler to try to obtain more Panzers.

Research by Jackie Lowery (Russell) - Ladies Auxiliary, VFW Post 4572

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