Posted on November 9th, 2016 by:

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By Tom Bernard Sp(X)1c

YANK Staff Correspondent

BREST, FRANCE [By Cable]—When American armored columns swept through Brittany in the whirlwind drive that changed the static war into a war of movement, they left behind them pockets of German resistance that had to be cleared by the slower and less spectacular work of the Infantry. The most determined of these pockets were located in seaports the Germans wanted to deny to the Allies, and the most important of these seaports was Brest.

Rather than divert a sizeable portion of the Allied forces from the eastward drive, in order to mop up Brest, the Allied command decided to continue the thrust toward Paris and leave Brest to be taken in good time by a relatively small force. But before even this force had arrived to lay siege to the great port, the job of holding the German garrison fell to a handful of men. In Army terminology they “contained” Brest, so they were naturally called “the Brassiere Boys.”

There were 20,000 Germans in Brest, commanded by Lt. Gen Hermann Ramcke, who led the Afrika Korps in its final retreat across Africa. The cream of his forces were the 2nd Paratroop Division, tough cookies who had been ordered by Hitler himself to hold out for four months.

brest france

This is Brest as it appeared during the street fighting. The lone American runs to a new position.

Tanks and half-tracks of the American 6th Armored Division had stuck their noses arrogantly into the outskirts of Brest and charged quickly up and down the byroads, giving the garrison the impression that a great American force was already on hand. Then the army had departed, leaving behind only the Brassiere Boys—an Armored Infantry battalion of the 6th, another Infantry battalion, a battalion of Artillery and two reconnaissance troops.

For six days, until reinforcements could arrive, the Brassiere Boys held the line, repulsing the probing German patrols and fooling the Germans into thinking they faced a much larger force.

S/Sgt. Joe Cybor’s rifle squad had been on the point in a half-track during the grueling 250-mile race up the Brittany peninsula. Dismounted, Cybor and his men now held the line at Brest—fighting again the hedgerow kind of war they thought they had left behind in Normandy.

The squad’s first job was to take Hill 105. “We were there a day and a half,” said Cybor, “Right smack between our artillery and theirs. There was a pillbox right below the top of the hill.

“I saw there was no chance of my squad going in, so I told Hale and Kunstek, my two bazookamen, to go after it.”

The two men advanced but were soon detected. Three Jerry machine guns pointed down at them.

Cybor took in the situation quickly. He had a tommy gun but that wasn’t enough. He yelled to Sgt. Bob Baker of Pittsburgh, Pa., another squad leader, for a machine gun. Baker brought him a light air-cooled .30. Holding it like a popgun, Joe stood up and let go. At the same time, his riflemen fired madly, trying to create a diversion.

“I saw we weren’t getting very far,” said Cybor, “so I fired a burst at Hale’s corner to wise him up. But he didn’t pay much attention.”

Hale was too busy listening to the Jerries talking in the pillbox. He eased up closer and tossed in a grenade.

Baker brought the news that the company had withdrawn 700 yards and the squad was cut off. But Cybor and the others refused to withdraw until Hale and Kunstek had rejoined them. They came back at last, lugging bags of bazooka ammo and munching on K-ration biscuits.

brest 2nd infantry division

Soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division enter Brest in September 1944

Then began the withdrawal. While two men at a time scooted across the field, the others blasted away with their rifles at concealed enemy gun positions. Then two more and two more. It was hedgerow to hedgerow until the whole squad finally slide, panting and aching, down a bank into a railroad right of way.

After failing to take the hill—a regiment later fought for days to capture it—the squad regrouped and spread out in a thin line on the left flank of the front. One of the squad had been wounded, but the remaining 11 had held a 150-yard strip with rifles, the tommy and light MG.

Over their heads the Artillery battalion of the Brassiere Boys was pounding away, doing its utmost to convince the German garrison that the siege of Brest was under way. But the Jerry artillery was pounding right back.

“In spite of all that racket,” Cybor said, ejecting a brown squirt of tobacco juice at a passing wasp, “we got some sleep—doubling up, two guys to a post, so one could sleep for two hours.”

Occasionally the squad would capture a prisoner and grin happily to themselves when he reported to the interrogator that the Brest garrison believed it was hemmed in by a great force.

One of Cybor’s men got pretty jittery. Seven men from another company had been captured by an unusually aggressive German patrol. “We worried a bit,” said Cybor, “Thinking maybe those GIs might spill the beans about there being only one battalion of Infantry.”

Evidently the captured Yanks refused to talk; there was no large-scale attempts to break through the thinned-out American lines.

The long watch was telling on the men. They were haggard, weary and aching for a solid night’s uninterrupted sleep. And as the strain of the unbroken six-day vigil and the pounding of the artillery left their mark, the enemy apparently got suspicious. Jerry patrols grew bolder.

Then at last relief arrived. The Brassiere Boys just sat and stared as fresh troops came along the hedgerows in single file, hundreds of them with plenty of guns and ammo.

Six weeks and four days after the first armored units had penetrated Brest, the port capitulated to the attacking forces.

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