Private Charles M. Brittingham (1923–1945)

Charles M. Brittingham (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareFarmhand
BranchService Number
U.S. Army42145939
TheaterUnit
EuropeanCompany “F,” 319th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Purple HeartArdennes-Alsace campaign
Military Occupational Specialty
745 (rifleman)

Early Life & Family

Charles Morgan Brittingham was born in Laurel, Delaware, on August 2, 1923. He was the son of Charles Edward Brittingham (a farmer, 1888–1951) and Myrtle E. Brittingham (née Lowe, 1894–1970). He had a younger brother. The Brittingham family was recorded on the census on April 5, 1930, living on the family farm along the dirt road between Laurel and Bethel. He was living with his parents and younger brother on their farm when recorded on the next census on May 21, 1940. Brittingham had completed three years of high school by that point. Journal-Every Evening reported that Brittingham “was a graduate of Laurel High School, where he starred in basketball.”

When he registered for the draft on June 30, 1942, Brittingham was living at and working on the family farm in Laurel (which had no address listed aside from being on Rural Free Delivery 2). The registrar described him as standing six feet, 2¾ inches tall and weighing 159 lbs., with brown hair and hazel eyes. According to his father’s statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, Brittingham married Ruth A. Breasure (1924–2010) in North Carolina on August 15, 1943.


Military Career

After Brittingham was drafted, he joined the U.S. Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on June 23, 1944. According to his father’s statement, Brittingham’s basic training was at the Infantry Replacement Training Center at Camp Blanding, Florida, followed by a brief stint in November 1944 at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, prior to going overseas. According to his father’s statement, Private Brittingham went overseas on December 8, 1944. His Military Occupational Specialty (M.O.S.) was 745 (rifleman).

The U.S. Army replacement policy in World War II was controversial. The original members of units that had trained together in the United States—the 80th Infantry Division, for instance, had trained for nearly two years before going overseas—had strong comradery. But heavy casualties in frontline units, especially infantry, required replacements, filled from replacement depots with soldiers possessing those same skills. New soldiers—many of whom, like Brittingham, had just a few months training and no combat experience—often joined units where they didn’t know anybody. They often had to go into combat after very little time acclimating.

In December 1944, Private Brittingham was assigned to the 80th Infantry Division, part of the U.S. Third Army. Earlier that year, following the breakout from Normandy in the summer of 1944, the 80th Infantry Division had been involved in fighting at the Falaise pocket, then driven east to cross the river Moselle. That fall, they broke through the fortifications of the Maginot Line. Originally built by the French during the interwar period in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent German invasion, the line was, ironically enough, now manned by that very enemy. Their drive into Germany itself was temporarily postponed by the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes that came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Initially defending Luxembourg, the division then became part of a force that hit the salient from the south and relieved the besieged crossroads of Bastogne, Belgium.

Per Special Orders No. 260, Headquarters 80th Infantry Division, dated December 30, 1944, Brittingham and 24 other men from the 14th Replacement Depot were assigned to Company “F,” 319th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division. That same day, he joined the company, which was in the line ¾ of a mile east of Heiderscheid, Luxembourg. The weather was cold and frequently snowy. The sector was fairly quiet during this period and the company lost more men to illness and injuries than combat.

According to company morning reports, on January 6, 1945, 1st and 3rd platoons moved out on a mission to cover engineers building a bridge over the river Sûre. The following day, most of the company crossed the Sûre. One platoon remained at the river (an assignment that other platoons rotated through in the coming days) while the rest of the company took “up positions in Goesdorf[.]  Company’s mission was to defend the South and Western parts of the village[.]”

On the morning of January 8, 1945, the Germans began bombarding Goesdorf and nearby Dahl before launching an infantry assault supported by tanks. The combined firepower of the 319th Infantry Regiment—together with elements of the 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion, the 702nd Tank Battalion, and the 905th Field Artillery Battalion—repulsed the attack. Private Brittingham’s platoon assignment is unknown, so it is unclear if this was his first time in combat, or whether he was in the platoon guarding the river.

80th Infantry Division soldiers marching through Wiltz, Luxembourg, about three miles northwest of Dahl, where Private Brittingham’s company staged for the attack on Kautenbach (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo, National Archives)

Company “F” remained around Goesdorf until the morning of January 18, 1945, when they “marched to Dahl Luxembourg where Company has mission of defending the town[.]” On January 22, 1945, they moved out and “dug in on high ground” northeast of Dahl. The morning report for the following day, January 23, 1945, reported that “Company jumped off in attack at 0800 [hours] with mission to take and clear town of Kautenbach Luxembourg[.]”

The regimental after action report for the month stated that on January 23, 1945,

          At 1230, F Co, reinforced with one platoon G Co, moved against KAUTENBACH […] At 1410, F Co (Reinf[orced]) moved into KAUTENBACH meeting heavy fire from houses on the high ground to the North of town. […] At 1835, F Co held lower part of KAUTENBACH but the enemy held the high part of the town and placed heavy automatic and rifle fire on F Co.  Two platoons of F Co tried to maneuver around west flank of the enemy but met heavy fire.  F Co ordered to hold up for the night and resume attack early 24 January 1945.

After house-to-house fighting, Company “F” reported the village secure by 2020 hours the night of January 24, 1945. It wasn’t until January 26, 1945, that the company clerk filling out the morning reports had a full accounting of the cost of the battle. One man was reported as killed in action and about 20 wounded, injured, or sick. Private Brittingham was listed as missing in action as of January 23, 1945.

In fact, Private Brittingham died on January 23, 1945, the first day of the battle for Kautenbach. According to his father’s statement and a digitized hospital admission card under his service number, Brittingham was hit in the head by shell fragments and killed. It wasn’t until February 13, 1945, that word of his fate reached Company “F,” by then driving into Germany. Journal-Every Evening reported that Brittingham’s parents first learned he was missing, then were informed of his death on February 24, 1945.

After the war, Brittingham’s family requested that his body be repatriated to the United States. On March 25, 1949, his body arrived back in Laurel. After services at Windsor Funeral Home the following day, he was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Laurel. His parents were also buried there after their deaths. Ruth Brittingham remarried around December 1950 to Carl William Tull (1930–2001), with whom she raised one daughter.


Notes

Hospital Admission Card

Hospital admission cards were filled out even when the soldier died prior to reaching the hospital. Brittingham’s stated that he was “Not in Medical Installation Prior to Death.”


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photo of Private Brittingham.


Bibliography

“15 Casualties From State Listed in Day.” Journal-Every Evening, February 28, 1945. Pg. 1 and 15. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/91139746/charles-m-brittingham-killed/

Brittingham, Charles E. Charles Morgan Brittingham Individual Military Service Record, March 26, 1946. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/17838/rec/1

“Charles E. Brittingham.” The Salisbury Times, February 10, 1951. Pg. 2. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/91098439/private-brittingham-father-obit/

Company morning reports for Company “F,” 319th Infantry Regiment, December 1944. National Personnel Records Center via the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website. https://www.80thdivision.com/MorningReports/DEC44/MR319F_DEC44.pdf

Company morning reports for Company “F,” 319th Infantry Regiment, February 1945. National Personnel Records Center via the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website. https://www.80thdivision.com/MorningReports/FEB45/MR319F_FEB45.pdf

Company morning reports for Company “F,” 319th Infantry Regiment, January 1945. National Personnel Records Center via the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website. https://www.80thdivision.com/MorningReports/JAN45/MR319F_JAN45.pdf

Delaware Marriages. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1673/images/31297_212345-00265

Extract from Special Orders No. 260, Headquarters 80th Infantry Division, December 30, 1944. National Personnel Records Center via the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website. https://www.80thdivision.com/MorningReports/DEC44/319Replacements_30DEC44.pdf

“Marriage Licenses.” The Salisbury Times, December 19, 1950. Pg. 13. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/91140223/marriage-of-tull-brittingham/

“Pfc. C. M. Brittingham.” The Salisbury Times, March 26, 1949. Pg. 2. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/91099541/charles-brittingham-obituary/

“Reports After Action Against Enemy, From: 1 January 1945, To: 31 January 1945.” Headquarters 319th Infantry, February 1, 1945. National Archives via the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website. https://www.80thdivision.com/AfterActionReports/80thAAR_319th_S1-S4_JAN45.pdf

“Ruth Anna Breasure Tull.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/55815935/ruth-anna-tull

Stanton, Shelby L. World War II Order of Battle: An Encyclopedic Reference to U.S. Army Ground Forces from Battalion through Division 1939–1946. Revised ed. Stackpole Books, 2006.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531895_00449

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00547-00749

U.S. WWII Hospital Admission Card Files, 1942–1954. Record Group 112, Records of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army), 1775–1994. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/record/701168418/brittingham-char-es-m-us-wwii-hospital-admission-card-files-1942-1954

World War II Army Enlistment Records. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=42145939&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=8353025

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_02_00001-01469


Last updated on January 1, 2022

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