We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France

Task Force Butler activated, 69 years ago

At 9:40am on the 17th of August 1944, the German High Command had authorized Army Group G to retreat northward to better defensive positions. Due to an ULTRA intercept, VI Corps commander, Major General Lucian Truscott, actually received the order 5 hours later, well before the German commander, General Blaskowitz. Truscott, a cavalryman by training, was ready for this.

Since the beginning of August, he’d planned on using the town of Montelimar as a choke point to trap German troops in the southern Rhone valley. In order to accomplish, Truscott knew his best tool would be a Combat Command from an Armored Division (about a third of such a division). He’d requested the allocation of a Combat Command in the planning process, but no American Combat Command was readily available. Combat Command Sudre’, part of the French Army supplied by Americans and part of the invasion plan, would be available to Truscott for just three days to hold off an expected German armored counter-attack at the landing beaches. Truscott knew that the 250-mile route to Montelimar was not an option for that unit (even given the wildly successful reality of the landings, CC Sudre’ would never have ventured far north in the few days it was allocated to VI Corps).

Knowing he wouldn’t have a true Combat Command available, Truscott went about creating his own. First, he assigned his Assistant Corps Commander, BG Fred Butler, to command the ad hoc unit. Butler had no separate command staff to draw upon, so he was allocated staff officers (generally, the deputy in each role) from the Corps command. Those officers then were combined with the command staff of his main unit, the 117th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. The combination of units that they designated as Task Force Butler provided similar force to an armored Combat Command, though lighter in tanks and half-tracks, but heavier in armored cars and jeeps.

So, on 17 August, Truscott ordered Task Force Butler to become operational and the units began gathering at Le Muy for the rapid advance to Montelimar.

For a detailed analysis of Task Force Butler, see MAJ Mike Volpe’s Master’s Thesis, Task Force Butler: A Case Study In The Employment Of An Ad Hoc Unit In Combat Operations, During Operation Dragoon, 1-30 August 1944.

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