Samuel J. Lewis
Reconnaissance on the Upper Seine River in 1944
     Nous citons cette analyse stratégique de la situation militaire en août 1944, qui permet de mieux comprendre dans quel contexte sopéra la Libération d’Étampes le 22 août 1944 par larmée des États-Unis dAmérique.
Reconnaissance on the Upper Seine River in 1944 

     Reconnaissance is one form of intelligence gathering that, in theory, can be performed, without violence or, conversely when a commander has to send an armed body to secure reliable information, with considerable violence. An illuminating example of reconnaissance that reflects a number of its facets was the combat between the U.S. Third and German First Armies southeast of the upper Seine River in mid-August 1944. 

     Strategically, by this point in time, Allied forces had complete command of the air, the active assistance of the French Resistance, and a wealth of intelligence sources on the enemy, including Ultra intercepts of top-secret German military radio messages. By contrast, German reconnaissance and intelligence measures were necessarily passive as a result of insufficient combat units and reconnaissance assets. For example, the German First Army's reconnaissance company consisted of twelve obsolete and road-bound French armored cars. German staff officers fluent in French systematically used the French national telephone lines, asking the locals if they had been liberated yet and where the Americans were. Since the First Army was equipped and organized for a static coastal defense, it depended largely on the French telephone system for its own command and control. 

     Oberbefehlshaber West (OB West), the German headquarters in France, realizing the nature of the crisis and struggling to cope with what was essentially a hopeless situation in the area of the Seine directed the German First Army to construct a defensive front between Alencon and the Loire River to prevent any further U.S. advance toward the upper Seine River. OB West warned that the Americans could be expected to force a crossing of the lower Seine west of Paris in an attempt to complete the destruction of Army Group B, the last of the German force of any consequence in the area. The commander of the First Army, General Kurt von der Chevallerie, a 52 year-old former branch chief of the German General Staff faced a formidable challenge: the defense of some sixty miles of flat terrain without any major formations.  

     In spite of the odds General von der Chevallerie managed to piece together a security screen in front of the Seine. The First Army's assault battalion held Dourdon, a Luftwaffe flak detachment defended Etampes, and a reinforced company of the 1010th Security Regiment held Malesherbes. In front of Paris, the remnants of the 352d Infantry Division held Limours. East of Malesherbes, the Loing River bisected the First Army front between Montereau and Melun. Von der Chevallerie named General Edgar Arndt commander of this Loing sector. Arndt commanded only weak security forces to defend a very wide front. He therefore placed his entire force in Montargis behind the river. 

     Patton was not particularly concerned with this front but, rather, with the remnants of German Army Group B, struggling to escape across the lower Seine. On 19 August, his XV Corps seized the first bridgehead across the Seine at Mantes. Over the following days, the US forces unsuccessfully attempted to drive forces down the west bank of the Seine. The XIX Tactical Air Command, attached to Patton's Third Army, conducted reconnaissance along the Loire river and between Paris and Orleans. The Third Army's indigenous cavalry groups and squadrons (mechanized) scoured the front, identifying von der Chevallerie's delaying position. The day before, on 18 August, the U.S. 43d Cavalry Squadron had penetrated the German security screen and from the wooded banks gazed down on the winding Seine. 

     This aggressive reconnaissance was in the finest traditions of the cavalry and air corps, but it was in this instance also grand theater. Generals Bradley and Patton knew from intercepted German radio messages not only the weakness of the German First Army but the impotence of the German forces south of the Loire River. Armed with such knowledge, it was doubly important to use aggressive reconnaissance to protect the Ultra secret. 

     During the fighting for the Seine, reconnaissance took its more traditional form, with units and commanders moving forward to determine the strength and location of the enemy. On the morning of 23 August 1944, Major General Walton H. Walker, XX Corps commander, made a personal reconnaissance to observe the 7th Armored Division's attempt to cross the Seine at Melun. That same day, the XX Corps' other division, the 5th Infantry, pushed through the Foret de Fontainebleau on a two-regiment front, ably guided around the mine fields by members of the French Resistance. As the 11th Infantry emerged from the forest, the soldiers saw that the Seine bridge was still standing. As an American patrol approached it, however, the Germans blew up the bridge, sprinkling the patrol with debris. The lead battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Kelly B. Lemmon Jr., remained undeterred and reconnoitered the river bank. He found five small boats and began to establish a bridgehead on the far side. 

     Patton's army had little difficulty crossing the Seine and breaking the German First Army's line. Instead of the scheduled two corps headquarters and five infantry divisions, von der Chevallerie received only the inexperienced 48th Infantry Division to defend a front of some fifty miles. The German infantry could not even observe much of the front, so German patrols had to reconnoiter the more inaccessible sectors. One such patrol discovered Lemmon's bridgehead near Fontainebleau. 

     At first appearance, Patton's overwhelming superiority on the ground, in the air, and in intelligence-gathering assets would suggest that such a campaign would merit perhaps only academic interest. The disparity in strength, however, makes the military work performed by the commanders and staffs all the more intriguing--particularly regarding their differing approaches to reconnaissance. We have already observed how the need to protect the Ultra source made it doubly important for the U.S. Army to pretend that it was not reading the German's radio messages by aggressively reconnoitering with its cavalry and air corps units. 

     Reconnaissance by the German First Army naturally differed in scope and purpose from that of the much more powerful U.S. Third Army. Von der Chevallerie lacked not only combat units but reconnaissance assets, air support, and the help of the local population. He consequently decided to disobey orders and erect a security screen with the few units that were available. Von der Chevallerie saw this gamble as the only way to gain time for reinforcements to reach the upper Seine. In German doctrine, security and reconnaissance were interdependent and, true to form, von der Chevallerie's security screen also provided ports from which his own meager reconnaissance forces could sally forth. 

     The fighting along the upper Seine demonstrated the ambiguity inherent in reconnaissance. It can be performed by one man on foot or by highly organized special organizations. While it is normally conducted to secure information on the enemy's location and strength, it can also be used to mask information identified by other sources. In the instance of the U.S. Third Army's and German First Army's combat on the upper Seine in mid-August 1944, Patton, von der Chevallerie, and their respective staffs demonstrated the broad applications possible in effective reconnaissance.

Samuel J. Lewis

Source:, en ligne en 2003.

     Gaston BEAU, «La libération d’Étampes. Notes», in Étampes. Bulletin Municipal (1er semestre 1975), pp. 7-8. Dont une saisie par le Corpus Étampois,, 2003. 

     P. H. de MENIBUS, «La libération d’Étampes. Un récit», in Étampes. Bulletin Municipal (1er semestre 1975), p. 8. Dont une saisie par le Corpus Étampois, 2003. 
     Bernard GINESTE [éd.], «Paroisse Saint-Gilles: Liste des victimes du bombardement d’Étampes du 10 juin 1944», in Corpus Étampois,, 2003. 
     Bernard GINESTE [éd.], «Robert Rameau: Étampes bombardé (7 clichés du 11 juin 1944)», in Corpus Étampois,, 2003. 
     Samuel J. LEWIS, «Reconnaissance: Fighting on the Upper Seine River, August 1944», in Roger J. SPILLER [éd.], Combined Arms Battle Since 1939, Ft. Leavenworth (Kansas, USA), Army Command and General Staff College Press, 1992, pp. 213-219. Dont une citation in-extenso dans la page, en ligne en 2003, reprise par
le Corpus Étampois, 2003.

G.T. KELLEY, John HAGGERTY, Ray INGHAM, «Bombardement d’Étampes-Mondésir (Journaux de guerre des 532e, 533e et 535e escadrons de bombardiers, 1er août 1944)», in Corpus Étampois,, 2003. 
Toute critique, toute correction ou toute information seront les bienvenues.
Sommaire généralCatalogue généralNouveautésBeaux-ArtsCartes postalesBibliographieHistoireLittératureTextes latinsMoyen Age NumismatiqueProsopographieSciences et techniquesDom FleureauLéon MarquisLiensRemerciementsÉcrire au RédacteurMail to the Webmaster