To cut off the Germans and capture as many as possible, VI Corps commander Major General Lucian K. Truscott organized a mobile task force under his chief of staff, Brigadier General Frederick B. Butler, on 17 August. Its job was to drive north, link up with the French Resistance, and try to cut off General Friedrich Paul Wiese's retreating German Nineteenth Army. It set out on 18 August. Task Force Butler advanced north along the Rh™ne River, and on the night of 20 August, Truscott ordered it to move the next morning to the town of Montélimar east of the Rh™ne, through which Highway 7 and a railroad line ran north. Its task was to set up blocking positions up the Rh™ne River valley in that vicinity. Truscott guessed correctly that the Germans intended to use the valley as their major escape route north. Major General John E. Dahlquist's 36th Division would then come up in support. Task Force Butler began arriving in the area on 21 August. As most bridges across the Rh™ne had been destroyed, the Americans hoped to trap General Wend von Wietersheim's 11th Panzer Division at Montélimar.
The eight-day battle there took place beginning on 21 August in a rough quadrilateral area about 15 miles north and 10 miles east of Montélimar. Despite Truscott's repeated orders to move as quickly as possible, the 36th Division was handicapped by an acute shortage of gasoline. The 141st Regiment of the 36th Division did not begin arriving at Montélimar on 23 August. Repulsed by German artillery, it had to settle for securing positions north of the town and east of Highway 7. Dahlquist, meanwhile, believed his men held the town itself and the highway.
Most German units were still south of Montélimar, and by 24 August, the American units had set up blocking positions. The Germans were now forced to find other escape routes east of Montélimar. Three German divisions, the 198th Infantry, 337th Infantry, and 11th Panzer, were ordered to hold off the 36th Division to the south, while opening escape routes north. The Germans captured an American operations order, and on 25 August, the Germans struck at the hinge between the 141st and 142nd Regiments at Bonlieu. After two assaults, they breached the American line there. A substantial numbers of Germans troops and tanks escaped north through this opening toward the Dr™me River before it was closed on 27 August. Other German troops managed to push up Highway 7, although they were subject to heavy artillery fire. Still others made their way west across the Rh™ne bridges, usually at night to avoid American artillery and aircraft strafing attacks. Not until 28 August did the U.S. 141st Regiment finally gain full control of the heights north of Montélimar, allowing the remainder of the 36th Division to enter the town and conduct mopping-up operations.
Although the Americans failed to entrap the Germans, they did inflict losses of 2,000 motor vehicles, 1,000 horses, 5 railroad guns, and 40 other artillery pieces. They also took more than 3,000 prisoners. Unfortunately for the Allies, most of the Germans had escaped north to continue the fight.
Laura J. Hilton and Spencer C. Tucker
Adelman, Robert H., and George Walton. The Champagne Campaign. Boston: Little, Brown, 1969.; Breuer, William. Operation Dragoon: The Allied Invasion of the South of France. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1987.; Clarke, Jeffrey. The United States Army in World War II: European Theater of Operations—Southern France. Washington, DC: Center for Military History, U.S. Army, 1994.; Wilt, Alan F. The French Riviera Campaign of August 1944. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1981.