Day of the Panzer: A Story of American Heroism and Sacrifice in Southern France
“To my knowledge, no one has ever taken such investigative extremes to reconstruct a small unit action in World War II. I’m also convinced that this is the only small unit profile ever written on the 1944 Campaign for Southern France. With the sands of time running very low for those few remaining veterans of the fight, this book may prove to be the last of its’ kind…” Jeff Danby
“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 “Champaign Campaign.”
6″ x 9″, 320 pages, 70 b/w photos, maps
“…one of the most interesting and absorbing battle histories that this reviewer has ever read…remarkably realistic and personal…”
- History Book Club
“…riveting…very well done and gives the reader a much broader vision of the “forgotten” Invasion of France”.
“… a gripping story of initiative and confusion (on both sides) competently told and one that shows the details of extensive research… delivers the nitty gritty…”
- Russ Lockwood, Magweb.com
“…makes a major contribution to our understanding of American infantry in Europe.”
- Michigan War Studies Review
“…clearly written, pacey and exciting whilst giving a clear account of the sequence of events, a first hand perspective and a “flow” that keeps one keen to thumb over the next page.”
- Military Modelling
“Danby resurrects the forgotten campaign of World War II in this excellent popular history… a sprightly and evocative tribute to the troops of Operation Dragoon.”
- Publisher’s Weekly
“…a powerful, punchy story…outs the reader in the middle of a raging battlefield populated with humans who far transcend the one dimensional paper soldiers often found in military history…”
- Stone & Stone Second World War Books
“Through his well-wrought prose, Danby paints a detailed picture of deadly fighting and stunning victory.”
- WWII History
AVAILABLE AT CASEMATE: Day of the Panzer (casematepublishers.com)