Lieutenant Helms’ D-Day Diary
a vivid, sharp, personal account of one soldier’s experience in the Normandy hedgerows
On July 26th 2014, during the 70th anniversary D-Day commemorations, I received an intriguing note from a lady in Charlotte, NC. I’d been introduced to my correspondent earlier that summer at the Chateau de Canisy, where I was working. Attached to her email was a document entitled Captain Helms, Normandy 1944. She explained that the document – a US Army officer’s field diary – had only recently been transcribed into electronic format. The diary had never before been published, distributed or even seen by anyone beyond the author’s family.
Ernest Vincent Helms. Photo: Helms family archive.
On my afternoon break I printed the document and sat down in the sunny courtyard to read its contents. I realized with fascination that exactly 70 years previously the diary’s author had passed by only a few hundred yards from where I sat. I looked at the entry for July 26: “...took 1st objective – Saint Gilles – moved from there to Canisy about 4 miles...” Despite the summer heat, the words sent the proverbial chills down my spine. I then continued to read the officer’s account of his battalion’s movements through the familiar towns and villages of western Normandy, my adopted home.
Beginning at his disembarkation on Omaha Beach on June 9th 1944, Helms’ diary recounted a journey from the landing beaches through the Normandy bocage countryside to engage the enemy in places I knew so well – Carentan, Saint-Lo, Canisy, Villebaudon, Percy, Tessy-sur-Vire... Having lived and worked in Normandy for over a decade I was familiar the history of D-Day and Operation Cobra. I’d been to the museums, walked the now tranquil beaches, and visited the towns whose 1950s architecture testifies to the destruction of 1944. I’d even had the privilege to meet several veterans of the Normandy campaign. But, for the first time, Captain Helms’ diary gave me a vivid glimpse of life on the frontline during the liberation of Normandy.
Omaha beach in 2017 from Strongpoint 60.
Photo: Brendan Hart
Since that first reading I’ve had the pleasure to accompany Captain Helms’ daughter, Helen, and her friend, Gene Hoots (who transcribed the diary), on a tour of the places mentioned in the text. In the following year, I made the same trip with Captain Helms’ son, George, whose reading-aloud from the original red notebook at the appropriate locations gave such a powerful, evocative tone to his father’s words. A first-hand account, written during the manoeuvres and battles it describes, Helms’ diary is, to quote Gene Hoots’ introduction to the transcription, “a vivid, sharp, personal account of one soldier’s experience in the Normandy hedgerows.”
Using the transcript, along with the original handwritten text, I hope to present the entries in a more readable style, editing and correcting the punctuation, and replacing the frequently used army shorthand and acronyms with their full descriptions. To clarify some of the names and locations mentioned in the text I have referred to Gordon A. Blaker’s Iron Knights: The U.S. 66th Armored Regiment in World War II. I gladly welcome any corrections or further contributions from subscribers. I would like to thank Helen and George for allowing me to retell their father’s personal story, Gene for his painstaking, verbatim transcription, and Frances Barts for bringing my attention to the diary in the first place.
Patrick Hilyer, Dangy, France.
Introduction to the transcript, by Gene A. Hoots
Ernest Vincent (E.V.) Helms grew up in Charlotte, NC. He graduated from North Carolina State College and became an officer in the Army. He was 30 years old in the summer of 1944. He had already served with the 2nd Armored Division in North Africa and Sicily. His diary is not clear on the point, but it appears he landed at Omaha Beach, Normandy with his Tank Battalion on the morning of June 9th. He was in almost constant combat, as he records in his little notebook, through August 2nd. Helms’ tour of active duty ended sometime in August or September 1944. He had received two Purple Hearts and a host of other medals. He earned the rank of Captain and was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky until the war ended. Ironically, his children only recently discovered their father’s diary. It is a vivid, sharp personal account of one soldier’s experience in the Normandy Hedgerows exactly 70 years ago.
June 9 1944, Omaha Beach, D+3
Lieutenant Ernest Vincent Helms, Tank Platoon Leader, 66th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division, U.S. Army
some companies lost all but two or three tanks, either in the water or on the beach from the hill fortifications
The beach off Saint-Laurent-Sur-Mer, France aboard British LCT landing craft. 10 vehicles, 40 men and me, the only officer. Landing craft and boats of every description up to and including the battleships laying off. First night – terrific air raids and more terrific ack-ack fire. German E-boat stole into the crowded landing craft and sunk two landing ships with torpedoes. British skipper was afraid to hit the beach with his ‘coal barge’, but finally made it. The hill overlooking the beach awfully crowded with shell holes made by naval gunfire. Observed three dug-in 88s well concealed that had raised Hell with a separate battalion’s tanks during the initial assault. Stopped by General Rose, who was already ashore, to await his order in transit area for consolidated move into assembly area. Lost my vehicles because of this delay and rode the crowded roads up and down the coast for an hour before I found them. Passed the first prisoners brought back – about 250 awaiting shipment to England. Further in, more prisoners being marched back by two GIs. A German Grenadier division, just as luck would have it, were maneuvering in this area without our knowing it. It was an extra division that the High Command had not accounted for and the going was made a lot tougher for the landing forces. Also it was the German plan to evacuate all civilians in this area on June 7th and we hit the morning of June 6th. So they did not expect us.
Lieutenant Helms' field diary. Photo: Helms family archive.
Contrary to news reports it was much tougher because the fire from the beaches kept the infantry flat on their faces for three hours before they could move up the beach, until more accurate Naval gunfire, plus air support, allowed them to move forward under the enormous barrage. The first assault of tanks was not successful at all. Some companies lost all but two or three tanks, either in the water or on the beach from the hill fortifications. The area was not heavy with mines as we expected, but there were snipers in every farmhouse and hedgerow. The French were doing a great deal of it too especially French gals who were the wives of German soldiers.
June 10 1944, assembly area near Crémy, D+4
if Jerry fails to stop our stuff coming off the beach, he has lost the war period
The air support is nothing short of marvelous. All day the drone of planes can be heard overhead – they’re all ours and it never stops. The Germans have put up very few and the great majority of those were shot down. Our division has been a long time getting ashore. For a while the Company was here almost alone but now they’re all in. If Jerry fails to stop our stuff coming off the beach, he has lost the war period. If he did, and it looked for a while like he might, we could probably have been driven off because we didn’t have enough stuff unloaded and that was how 1st and 2nd Infantry had almost exhausted their ammo supply for two days.
The build-up of Omaha Beach. Reinforcements of men and equipment moving inland, June 8 1944.
We have sweated a counter attack by the huge force of German Panzers and infantry divisions we know to be 6 miles south in the forest of Cerisy-la-Forêt, or maybe it’s just a rumor that they are there because we now hold all of the forest of Cerisy. Assembled at 'Sur-le-Chemin' [Le Gril, Calvados].
June 13 1944, Isigny-sur-Mer, D+7
the morale of F Company has been shaken but the boys are more determined than ever
We moved over to Insigny to reinforce VII Corps. Heavy fighting through to Insigny with some airborne regiments. Town in shambles. Civilians still there, and how they lived through it I’ll never understand.
German paratroopers with MG42 machine gun in the Normandy bocage, June 21 1944.
Photo: Deutsche Bundesarchiv
Afternoon of June 13. The regiment [66th Armored Regiment], with airborne division plus heavy artillery, moved through and took Carentan about 8 miles around the base of Cherbourg peninsula from Insigny. Here the Airborne has been battling it since D-day with elements of the 17th SS Panzer Division (Hitler’s Best). There was much destruction with German and American dead everywhere. About 1630 this afternoon, two of the finest officers I’ve ever known, Nick [Captain Nicholson] and Tonk [Lieutenant Tonkin] of F Company were casualties. Nick was shot right out of the turret by a German antitank weapon and killed instantly. Tonk was caught between the eyes (literally) with the bullet passing through his head and out behind his ear. He is still living but the medics say he is totally blind in both eyes. How he’s managed to live is just one of those miracles.
Silent tribute to an American soldier at Carentan, Normandy, France, June 1944.
These hedgerows are the meanest obstacle we’ve ever faced. They cut the landscape every 50 to 100 yards in all directions. It is impossible to see beyond or through them. The snipers with high-powered telescopic sights draw ya down into their sites, and so far they’re batting pretty near 1000%. German bazooka squads hang out in those hedgerows with a rocket launcher similar to ours (but 105mm). When the tank gets within 100 yards it’s almost curtains. They are accompanied by a crew of 2 that man a machine gun to play havoc with the crew as they attempt to abandon the tank. We are 5 miles beyond Carentan and it’s like this all the way. Lieutenant Corbin of D Company also got it in the face today. Sergeant Chappel of F company hit a mine. Phillips and Lumsden turned over. The morale of F Company has been shaken but the boys are more determined than ever. If it takes this to make mad killers out of them, then what has happened today will be to our advantage.
June 14 1944, southwest of Carentan, D+8
it’s really turned into a battle between the cream outfits of two armies: the German 17th Panzer SS versus the 2nd Armored Division
Today the Regiment has moved farther inland from Carentan, advancing in platoon action from hedgerow to hedgerow along the axis of the road running southwest from the town. Over 500 German dead are accounted for in this area alone by 2nd Battalion. There are dead everywhere. We lost a few tanks but the boys at last have adapted themselves to this terrain and are using the only tactic: from boundary to boundary, some as close together as 50 yards, bursts of HE [high explosive ammunition] super quick into the forward hedgerow from each tank in line, plus spraying 30 calibre machine gun fire as the tank moves forward. All day today, and as I write this, the artillery continues to whistle overhead and out to the German positions in front of us. Today, after we closed into this area, I stopped a would-be French civilian in typical peasant attire except he had on German field boots. I searched him and he had no papers to identify him as French – no German papers at all. Brand new French money in a beautiful leather wallet that could only be afforded by a German officer. We stripped him clean and that’s all we found. The French interpreter said he spoke very poor French, and that guttural accent was enough: he was turned over to S2 (Intelligence) and sure enough he was a German SS officer. We’ve heard so much about the German SS. They are surely Mr. Hitler’s finest troops. They will not give up. They’re fanatical. They die at their posts. But they couldn’t have been killed any deader by Russians than this Regiment has done in the past few days. He has suffered tremendous losses, and it’s really turned into a battle between the cream outfits of two armies: the German 17th Panzer SS versus the 2nd Armored Division.
Sherman Tank with hedgerow cutters in Pont Hébert Normandy.
In this area also are two Panzer Mark IV tanks – one destroyed by John Bova, one by Nick [Nicholson]. John caught the crew outside their tank which was layered nicely into a hedgerow to cover an adjacent field and road. Caught ‘em at a right angle from a hedgerow 100 yards away – HE at point-blank range. The crew was blown to pieces by their vehicle. When I inspected the tank this afternoon it was in serviceable condition. The radio was still on and G2 is using it now. We’ll probably find good use for that vehicle. That 88mm gun with ammunition will come in handy maybe.
June 16 1944, CCA area, south of Carentan, D+10
ate a jar of that ‘College Inn’ boneless chicken and caramel dessert Mom sent me a month ago
New replacements: 6 officers, 50 enlisted men. South of Carenton under CCA control. Our own ‘scare’. Dead cows. Dead Germans and Americans. Abe Shires [Lieutenant] and his burying detail. Nice cattle that still grazes that hasn’t been milked in 10 days. Our anxiety to hear news reports from the BBC whenever we have a chance. Shelling of bridge east of Carenton as Bourgman and I crossed it.
June 17 1944, D+11
Bath from steel helmet – first in 12 days. Shaved, washed jacket and uniform. Ate a jar of that ‘College Inn’ boneless chicken and caramel dessert Mom sent me a month ago to England for supper.
Advertisement for College Inn Chicken c.1950. A nourishing reminder of home.
June 18 1944, Forest of Cerisy-la-Forêt, D+12
Sunday and there seems to be no activity. Moved from area west of Carentan yesterday back to the Forest of Cerisy.
June 23 1944, D+17
Took command of E Company. Two days later new captain was appointed to the regiment, and I promptly had to step down.
July 1 1944, Le Mesnil near Caumont-l’Eventé, D+25
Moved south to the vicinity of Caumont-l'Eventé, to the assembly area. Enemy line 4000 yards to south and east. Strafed a little by 7 Fw 190s coming down here.
July 2 1944, D+26
Artillery batteries located all around us at present time. Almost impossible to sleep (almost – I can sleep anywhere). Quite a bit of incoming Jerry artillery, probably counter-battery.
July 3 1944, D+27
Artillery started at 2300 and continued all night. Several overhead bursts in our area. Still counter-battery. An artillery battle and we...
July 5 1944, D+29
Sick as Hell. High temperature, nausea, headaches, and tired.
July 6 1944, 2nd Evacuation Hospital, La Mine, D+30
Evacuated to 2nd Evac Hospital. Trouble diagnosed as atypical pneumonia after three X-rays. Headaches severe. Sinusitis acute. Awfully Sick. Met some nice boys there – wounded kept going in and out.
2nd Evacuation Hospital, La Mine
July 12 1944, 4th Convalescent Hospital, La Cambe, D+36
Left 2nd Evac for the 4th Convalescent Hospital. It was a helluva place. Still sick, but figured I was almost better off in the line. Dr. Davis of 2nd Evac wanted to send me to England.
July 13 1944, replacement center, D+37
Left the 4th Convalescent for a God damn replacement center. They told me I’d have to wait a few days before joining my unit. Promptly took off. Hitch-hiked and worked my way up to Division rear echelon where I called the Regiment and they sent someone for me.
July 14 1944, Le Mesnil near Caumont-l’Eventé, D+38
I can name my tank Helen now as I always wanted to, but never did have the H
Colonel Collier got mad or something and transferred and juggled 17 officers. Transferred me from E to H Company under Cameron Warren. I’m now right back to a platoon leader where I started over 3 years ago. I'm getting ahead fast. H Company. I can name my tank Helen now as I always wanted to, but never did have the H. I have been shoved around so much I don't give a damn anymore. There’s no energy for griping left in me.
Gathered the platoon together today and talked with them. They’re mighty happy about having me it seems. Hope I can do them a good job. Maybe I'll get that Company someday.
July 17 1944, Forest of Cerisy, D+41
Moved out of the line to rear area vicinity northeast corner of the forest of Cerisy.
July 19 1944, D+43
Alerted for the drive south to Saint-Lo and parts south, with us as the spearhead with 180 minutes of bombing to precede the attack, using about 5 divisions.
July 20 through 25, still on alert. Heavy rain, low ceiling.
July 26 1944, D+50
at 0815 we moved out in the leading assault company with infantry mounted on the tanks
Moved at 0100 hours. Blackest night I ever saw. Light discipline perfect. West 25 miles, then south another 5 miles to go into attack position for the Big Push. Arrived 0430 hours. Slept from 0500 to 0630.
'FURY', M4 Sherman, of F Company with infantry aboard in the Normandy countryside during Operation Cobra.
Photo: Word War II In Color
At 0815 we moved out in the leading assault company with infantry mounted on the tanks. South and a few miles west of Saint-Lo. Met our first opposition about 1000 hours. At noon we had only made 1½ miles. Wonderful artillery support. More wonderful air support. The terrain and hedgerows were ferocious. They held us up more than the fleeing enemy did. We got too far forward at times, and were hit with our own artillery and air bombardment, but we kept shoving.
2nd Armored Division in Saint-Giles, July 1944. Photo: WorldWarPhotos
At 1700 hours we took our first objective, Saint-Gilles. Moved from there to Canisy, about 4 miles, and made it by dark at 2200 hours. Moved from there in black-out on south through the German positions another 4 miles to the objective, making a 10-mile breakthrough for the day. Got to sleep at 0230 hours. I was dead tired and mistook an AWC bucket for a helmet. It didn’t fit, but I didn’t know the difference. I fell asleep on the ground but almost froze and got half way stuck in my sleeping bag and went to sleep. It rained before daylight and I was soaked but didn’t know it until my gunner woke me up at 0630. We had to set up an all around defense because we broke through at night and the Germans are still miles behind us and vice versa. Washed and shaved. I was in the tank yesterday from 0815 to 2 o’clock this morning (17 hours). Ate ‘D’ ration on the move and urinated in an empty 75 ammo case.
July 27 1944, Le Mesnil Herman, D+51
constant chatter of machine guns and sniper fire all night
Saw a flight of Fw 190s come over but they broke up right over the top of us to attack when a few P-47 Thunderbolts hit them. They scattered to the four winds and one was shot down right over us. The other six or seven Fw 190s were being chased by P-47s when they all disappeared into the clouds.
M4 Sherman Tank 'Duke' of D Company carries riflemen of the 22nd Infantry Regiment, start of operation Cobra.
1450 hours – prepared now to move into the attack again today. Moved south from Le Mesnil Herman. Met resistance and artillery fire 2 miles north of Villebaudon. Went off the axis and attacked down the left side of the road and got lost from the other two platoons by fighting too far to the left. Cam Warren had to fire a couple of flares before we could get together again. Darkness overtook us and we assembled the company 2 miles north of Villebaudon.
Midnight – infiltration of German infantry. Constant chatter of machine guns and sniper fire all night. Captured 20 or 30 and also a few German vehicles. Sat on the radio all night and observed and sensed our artillery fire. Stonked Villebaudon and also a German tank column one mile south of us. Colonel Quillian critically wounded by our own men.
July 28 1944, two miles north of Villebaudon, D+52
I only had only 4 tanks and a bulldozer and was cut off from the rest of the Company. I sweated out a counter attack all morning, but we held the town
Moved to attack Villebaudon down the left side of the axis. Stuck many tanks and bulldozers but got them all out. Moved to the road one mile north of Villebaudon and cautiously took the town. Was fired on by a Mark IV tank but my last vehicle got him.
M4 Sherman Bulldozer, 'Apache', July 1944.
When we got into Villebaudon at 1030 hours, we met a German column 800 yards south coming north into the town, and another 400 yards west coming east into the town. We fired on them immediately knocking out several vehicles – tanks, armored cars, self-propelled guns and fuel trucks. They disbursed off the road, but we killed lots of Germans there. They thought we were in great strength perhaps, but I only had only 4 tanks and a bull dozer and was cut off from the rest of the Company. I sweated out a counter attack all morning, but we held the town. I was joined later by Knapp’s reconnaissance platoon, and though it wasn't much I was glad to see another officer and I felt better. (Pathetic French family). The town was in shambles but the roads were good, and it was still the NSEW Center of Communication.
Cam Warren came through from the other side, the back way, wounded, and told me he’d send help. I was ordered to take over the Company, the biggest part of which was cut off three miles away and in trouble. About 4 o’clock the situation became stable in our favor. Joined the Company and took them one mile back of Villebaudon for reorganization. Lost my Voice. Had one officer left. G company commanded by Bruce Kelly went into the attack and lost four tanks that afternoon. We had lost about four that morning. Gargled and worked on my throat all night.
July 29 1944, Villebaudon, D+53
the Jerry tank fired one over our heads that was a helluva blast. We took off and hit the hedgerow a hundred yards away, and then he very easily fired a shot into each of them and set them on fire
I was ordered into the attack at 0800 hours this morning. Joined the battalion three miles south of Villebaudon in attack on Huge Hill 260 [Le Mont Robin], just east of Percy. Bruce lost four more tanks, and I was ordered to stop and secure what we had at the base of the hill. Bruce had several critically wounded that he was trying to evacuate and couldn’t get the medics that far up. A boy out of the 3rd battalion, 22nd Infantry, 4th Division, named Polock, discovered that two of Bruce’s tanks would still run. We crawled out in order not to be seen by the gun that knocked them out because we thought the gun was on the hill in front of us. It happened to be a dug-in Mark V tank just two-hundred yards away – we exposed ourselves for 10 minutes trying to get the tanks out. Then when we got them started the Jerry tank fired one over our heads that was a helluva blast. We took off and hit the hedgerow a hundred yards away, and then he very easily fired a shot into each of them and set them on fire. But he was pretty kind to us.
M4 Sherman 'Destroyer' of D Company overturned near Canisy, July 1944.
We went up the back way to within 25 yards of the tank that was covering the approach to the hill and also the road junction, but we couldn’t do it any harm as it was too well dug in. Broad daylight – we could hear German voices on the other side of the hedgerow and we couldn’t do a thing. The infantry attached to us went up and took the hill but were driven off at dark. At dark we pulled the tanks back one mile to an assembly area for the night.
July 30 1944, Percy, D+54
just before the attack at 9pm I had the tanks in formation and all the platoon leaders and platoon sergeants together when a mortar shell hit 5 yards away. It blew us all down. One killed, about 12 wounded
We were counter attacked all morning from the north, south east and west. They were all around us but we didn’t budge an inch. We were shelled by mortar and artillery fire nearly all day. My mission was to secure with Infantry our right flank. It turned out to be quite a battle. About 1:30pm we moved to our right to take and secure Percy so that CCA could pass through. We had a helluva time doing it. Just before the attack at 9pm I had the tanks in formation and all the platoon leaders and platoon sergeants together when a mortar shell hit 5 yards away. It blew us all down. One killed, about 12 wounded. Disrupted my whole organization. It got my last officer, two platoon sergeants, drivers, gunners, tank commanders etc. They shelled us for some time and G Company with Kelly were moving into the attack. O’Farrel gave me two minutes to reorganize. I did so, but it wasn’t nearly enough time. We were demoralized and in a bad way – we took off though. H turned yellow. Had to get out of my tank in heavy fire a number of times in order to make him go forward and lead his platoon. Gwinn’s Heroism. Kelly’s losses, my losses – total 8 tanks, all burning. The resistance was terrific. The Boss pulled us back because it was so futile to attempt it. It was a strong point. We were shelled continuously until we finally pulled out of there. The morale was lower still. The losses were high, and we felt that H and G Companies were fighting the whole war. In order to get out we had to send each tank one at a time, five minutes apart, 3 miles through the black along wooded trails to a designated assembly area. All that were left limped but they made their way back. I was the last one out in H Company, Bruce for G Company, but when we got in they were all there. B Company light tanks had us out posted so we all flopped dead and slept 2½ hours till dawn.
July 31 1944, near Percy, D+55
The whole day for maintenance and reorganization. We didn’t have many men left to reorganize with, but Maintenance Company sent us some new tanks and we didn’t do bad with what we had.
Battle order notes
CCA attached to 29th Infantry Division for purpose of securing Tessy-sur-Vire. The attack from present position…LD [line of departure] is north-south road that runs through Villebaudon cross at 0530 hours. Without air support or bombardment – no artillery. CCA will participate. 3rd Battalion will lead out. 24th Reconnaissance Squadron will protect right and left flanks. 2nd Battalion to follow us and will move up to right or left flank as desired. Reconnaissance will furnish guides to LD avoiding Villebaudon. G Company to lead with Hickman bulldozer. Meeker either get another battery and if you’re on the same channel with Holloway he will get his through plans[?]. H Company on left, G Company on right. 2 companies abreast – 1 platoon Company front. Infantry to accompany, explain terrain. 175 Infantry to follow. Radio silence to LD.
August 1 1944, Tessy-sur-Vire, D+56
sprayed the streets, windows and woods outside of the town with machine gun fire. Blew the bridge leading from the town to Jerry position on the hill
1230 hours got called to Battalion HQ. Smoked in the half-track and waited for Major O’Farrel to return from CCA. Moving order for 0430 hours – cross LD at 0500 to attack Tessy-sur-Vire. Walked a mile to the infantry officers’ command post in a French farm house. We worked out coordinated plans, then returned to the Company to alert everybody. Used two 6-tank platoons, each commanded by staff sergeants. Moved out with K Company 4th Infantry Division mounted aboard our tanks. Pitch dark. Heavy dust and heavy fog.
Daylight still heavy fog. Moved 6 or 8 miles after we passed through 29th Infantry before we contacted units of the 2nd SS Panzer Division. Heavy Mark V tanks. Directed and laid Sergeant Gwinn’s tank on a Mark IV and set it on fire. Column halted by three German tanks strategically located for over 2 hours. Problems of trying to get by. The tanks we lost. Gwinn’s mission – mines in road – Holland’s wild tries – made it by noon. Sniper fire. Kelly shot through the arm. Bulldozer knocked out. Artillery gun at the crossroads before the town. Attacked Tessy-sur-Vire at 2:10pm with infantry behind. H Company on left of road, G Company under Lieutenant Roberts now on right. He lost every one of his tanks. Schlussler’s rampage into town too soon. His capture. Sample’s death. Reached objective 200 yards outside the town about 4:30pm. Sat around and watched the prisoners being brought in. Contacted advanced elements of 30th Division.
35th Infantry Division troops and wrecked Flakpanzer, Tessy-sur-Vire, August 1944.
About 8 o’clock, infantry contacted Major O’Farrel for tanks to finish cleaning out the town. Didn’t like the job but took it. Infantry had half of the town and couldn’t occupy the other half toward the River Vire without heavy casualties. Took four tanks with my own and shot it up. Put 75mm in every building. Sprayed the streets, windows and woods outside of the town with machine gun fire. Blew the bridge leading from the town to Jerry position on the hill. Infantry very pleased. Returned to the assembly area 11pm.
August 2 1944, assembly area near Percy, D+57
General Rose came to town. Pulled out with the infantry about noon to another assembly area for move back to area for reorganization. Lost 9 tanks destroyed, 5 knocked out but evacuated. 3 men killed, about 25 wounded.
Here ends the notes written by Lieutenant Helms in his battered red notepad. It is not known why his notes stop here, but he did write three v-mails to his parents in Charlotte, NC dated September 5-8 from a hospital room in England. He mentioned seeing doctors twice a day, getting penicillin and possibly going home in three weeks.
In the days following Helms’ last diary entry, the 3rd Battalion of the 66th Armored Regiment was engaged in the fierce battle for Hill 219 southwest of Vire. Whether Ernest Helms’ evacuation to England was due to injuries received during this battle is not recorded, but during his active service in Europe he did receive two Purple Hearts as well as the Soldier’s Medal (awarded in Sicily for saving a non-commissioned officer from drowning). He earned the rank of Captain and was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky until the war ended.
The men of H Company, 66th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division, Berlin 1945
Photo: Cameron J Warren
The 2nd Armored Division raced across France with the rest of Third Army during July and August. The Division reached the Albert Canal in Belgium on September 8, 1944 and crossed the German border north of Schimmert on September 18, 1944. On October 3, 1944, the 2nd Armored attacked the Siegfried Line, breached it, and then crossed the Wurm River, seized Puffendorf on November 16, and Barmen on November 28. The 2nd Armored Division was holding positions on the Roer River when ordered to help contain the Germans’ Ardennes offensive, the Battle of the Bulge.
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