|A Story of American Heroism
and Sacrifice in Southern France
“Day of the Panzer” is a highly detailed historical reconstruction of one U.S. infantry
company’s combat experiences during the Southern France Campaign of August
1944. This book is the product of six years of painstaking research—drawing from
many varied primary source documents and the recollections of dozens of
participants and eyewitnesses to accurately describe the action. Though the work
represents exhaustive scholarship, the narrative unfolds with engaging prose. The
reader is completely immersed into the tumult of the times and introduced to many
fascinating individuals of L Company (15th Infantry Regiment, Third Infantry
Division) and from the supporting M4 tank crews of B Company of the 756th Tank
Battalion. Together, the infantry and tankers struggle to survive long marches
through oppressive heat, days of boredom, and the sudden terror of unexpected
combat encounters. Some men die unexpectedly while others inexplicably survive.
L Company was nearly wiped out during the bloody Anzio breakout of May
23rd, 1944. Under the fiery and fearless command of Captain James “Red” Coles,
the Company was rebuilt and remolded into a tough, colorful bunch over the summer
in preparation for “Operation Dragoon.” On August 12th, 1944, they steamed
toward southern France unsure of what to expect. Three days later, they hit the
beaches near Saint-Tropez in the first assault wave. Joining them were the four tank
crews of 2nd Lt. Andrew Orient’s 3rd Platoon—Cassino veterans retrained to man
amphibious Sherman “DD” tanks.
After overcoming pockets of resistance along the coast, the tanks and infantry
swept westward toward Marseille, nipping at the heels of the retreating German
Nineteenth Army. Several days later while establishing a roadblock near Marignane
airport, a sudden German artillery attack left six L Company men with serious
wounds, and Lt. Orient dead. 1st Lt. Edgar Danby, an armor instructor and the
author’s grandfather, was flown in from Italy to replace him.
Despite blistered feet and fuel shortages, the Third Division raced north
through the Rhône River valley and finally engaged the Nineteenth Army at
Montélimar. L Company and supporting tanks once again led the Regimental
charge. In the haste and chaos of the day, they managed to slip the German
rearguard and unwittingly attacked the German LXXXV Armeekorps headquarters in
the small town of Allan. Both sides were shocked by the ferocity of battle.
Led by a rampaging Panther tank, the Germans counterattacked, knocked out
the tank of Lt. Danby, and threatened to cut L Company positions in half.
Surrounded and facing annihilation—but steeled by the courageous leadership of
Captain Coles and others—the Company held fast until reinforcements could arrive
the next morning. However, the small battle was costly: Nine Americans were
killed, eleven wounded, and thirteen captured. German casualties were roughly
double that. Miraculously, no citizens of Allan lost their lives.
Although two thousand Americans died fighting in southern France, historians have
long dismissed the Campaign as an effortless Allied success. “Day of the Panzer” is
a stark reminder that many fine young men experienced nothing that approached a
|6" x 9", 320 pages, 70 b/w photos, maps