Originally I had planned to do separate posts of both the 82nd “All American” Airborne Division and the 101st “Screaming Eagles” Airborne Division but as they both dropped in Cotentin and were widely scattered elements of each would fight together.
There is even evidence that 3 troopers from the 101st fought with the 2nd Rangers Battalion at Pointe-du-Hoc such was the scattering.
82nd Airborne Division
Jump on both side of the Merderet River West of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Capture Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Capture two causeways at La Fiere and Chef-du-Pont. Destroy bridges over the Douve River at Etienville and Beuzeville-la-Bastille. Establish a bridgehead West of the Merderet and hold the Northwestern flank of the bridgehead.
101st Airborne Division
Seize and hold four beach Exits coming from Utah-Beach. Destroy the German heavy artillery battery at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville and a buildings complex coded WXYZ at Mezieres. Capture the La Barquette lock, destroy bridges over the Douve River and organize a defensive line to protect the Southern flank.
13,000 U.S Paratroopers jumped from their C-47’s on the morning of the 6th of June. Due to intense flak and heavy cloud cover the pilots of the C-47’s broke formations most dropping their paratroopers well away from the original drop zones. Many man are killed when they land in the flooded area’s behind Utah beach or in the marsh land around the Merderet river.
Made famous from the film The Longest Day John Steele
Le Fiere Causeway
Approaching the causeway you can see just how difficult the terrain made the fighting in this area.
On either side of the Le Fiere bridge the fields had been flooded to create a causeway for the road.
This is how it looks now, if you imaging the fields you see covered with water it gives you some idea of how difficult a mission this was.
Memorials to the brave men that fought here, many never to return to their families and loved ones.
Across the causeway is Cauquigny.
Lt. Col. Timmes landed not far from this orchard in two foot of water in the middle of a marsh, a gust of wind pulled his parachute 220 to 330 yards, and then his head was under water. Finally, there was another gust of wind that saved his life, and threw him on to a small slope. He rapidly unhooked his harness and got up.
During his descent, he as able to distinguish the railway. He understand that he found himself at approximately one and a half miles from Amfreville. Accompanied by a small group of his men who touched down like himself in the marsh, they directed themselves due south in the direction of Cauquigny. Then the enemy was already firing in their direction. Near the chapel, a group of 30 men in Company “D” of his battalion came to join him. Lt. Col.Timmes established that the sector was very calm.
He went back toward Amfreville across the fields, because he heard some gunfire. He thought that his battalion was attacking the town in coming from the North. He thought it was possible to attack from the east side. But the enemy gunfire cracked everywhere, some of his men fell to the bullets. Lt. Col. Timmes ordered his men to withdraw. A large number of Germans followed them in pursuit.
Near 09:30 June 6th, they all took defensive positions in all the orchards in this area. He had no communication equipment with which to reach headquarters or other groups. He hoped to gain trooper strength to assault Amfreville during the daylight. He sent a patrol led by 1st LT. Lewis LEvy to outpost the western approach to Le Fiére cause at Cauquigny. Levy reported it clear of enemy. Lt. Col. Timmes proceeded to dig his foxhole under a tree behind a farm, next doot to Mr Jules Jean. His men dug theirs at the feet of the hedge.
In the meantime, the Germand began attacking in force the positions at Cauquigny. For the moment Cauquigny was lost. The escapees of the 507th and the 508th PIRs rejoined Lt. Col. Timmes in the isolated orchards. At the end of the day he counted around 150men, one 57mm canon and two machine guns. For the night his men took defensive postions in the orchards. Lt. Col. Timmes was worried, because 40 of his men had been hit by enemy fire. Survival in this isolation was but a question of time.
The next day, Wednesday 7th of June, the German pressure increased. They sneaked in the hedges and bushes. They arrived in the hamlet of Motey, but also from the north side, coming from the Grey Castle. They tried to infiltrate in to the defensive perimeter. The men pushed them back by violent firepower. Never were they able to pentrate the marsh. The same day,near 17:00, the isolated men were able to scrounge from the parachute drop intended for them providing food, weapons, ammunition, that which would give them a glimmer of hope.
Thurday June 8th, was a terrible day. Between 500 and 600 Germans arrived very near Motey. The paratroopers lanced forceful patrols, one towards the Gray Castle, the other towards the farm La Pierre. The battle was furious, bullets by the hundreds targeted the trees and the walls of the houses of the hamlet des Heutes. The Germans lanced more furious attacks. The paratroopers cut down all that was in the open. The men of Lt. Col. Timmes had held well under fire of mortar and machine guns.
Still in need of contact with higher headquarters, Timmes directed Lt. John Marr to make contact with friendly forces across the flooded river basin (Merderet). Marr and his platoon runner Pfc Norman Carter, started out and stumbled upon a knee-deep stone road that led them northeast to the railroad embankment. A boat and a jeep ride later, they were in the 82nd Dvision CP where it was decided to send 1st Battalion of the 325th GIR across the sunken road at night to attack the rear of the Germans holding Cauquigny and the western edgeof the Le Fiére causeway. Carter returned to Timmes and told him of the plan and Marr stayed to lead the glider men to Timmes positions. Their arrival gave Timmes his long needed communications with Division.
At 23:30, Major Teddy Sanford commanding office of the 1st Battalion 325th glider infantry regiment, was led by Lt Marr in accompaniment of 1st Lt. Wayne Pierce 325th GIR, starting from the railway, to the secret underwater path, the ford, which crosses from east to west. Company “C” led and they attacked the Grey Castle, while Companies “A” and “B” went through the orchard to gain access to the pathway to Motey. At 03:30, near Amfreville crossroads, Company “C” bumped into the bivouac of a German artillery unit. The reaction was very violent. Twelve soldiers of the 325th GIR were shot to death. Alarmed by the engagement Timmes mortars went into action, which allowed the rest of 1st battalion to regroup, although disorganised in Timmes orchards.
The next day the toughet battle tookplace on the causeway linking Le Fiére bridge and Cauquigny’s Chapel, the 3rd battalion of the 325th GIR and those of the 507th IR were engaged in it. Germans were expelled from their positions. In the same stride the Americans pushed through Motey. This thrust allowed the men in Timmes Orchards to finally disengage from the German grip around them.
Memorial to the 507th PIR at Amfreville.
Following the footsteps of “Easy” Company 2nd Battalion 506th PIR 101st Airborne.
Brécourt Manor Assualt
Le Grand Chemin is a little hamlet were the 506th where regrouping on the 6th of June. Very close is the farm complex (less then 1km) called Brécourt Manor. 4 howitzers where hiding in the treeline here and had not been spotted by allied intelligence. It fell to Lt Richard ‘Dick’ Winters and 12 men of “Easy” Company to disable the guns.
Following the 101st from Le Grand Chemin to Carentan
Sainte Marie du Mont
Saint-Marie-du-Mont was the first town liberated on D-Day and there are a few plaques around the town talking about events here is the text of 2 of them.
“The first death of the night was that of a young German soldier named Oskar. He was not yet twenty years old and had a gentle peaceful nature. He was the garrison’s gardener, more comfortable with pruning shears than with a rifle.
On the night of the June 5th to 6th, while planes crisscrossed the sky letting out paratroopers, Oskar raced towards La Maillardiére to take up his position. The inhabitants heard his iron-shod heels ringing on the pavement, then a shot, and finally silence. Oskar was found in a ditch near the stud farm, without his helmet or rifle, his hands joined together as in prayer, a bloody hole in his forehead”
“Lieutenant Lid, from Hamburg, was second in command of the German garrison. He was so bad-tempered, the population nicknamed him the “little bitch”. Armed with a sub machine-gun he placed himself in front of the stud farm and shot at the paratroopers as they landed in the field opposite. He killed at least one soldier in mid-air. Then he withdrew to La Maillardiére where he was taken prisoner in the afternoon. It was with great satisfaction that the population watched “little bitch” file past hands on the back of his neck his arrogance vanished into the air.”
This was the site of the 506th HQ on the night of the 6th of June and protected by Easy Company. It was also the location of the field hospital and there is a dedication to 2 medic’s who won silver stars here for their work over 2 days.
The Plaque reads “On the morning of D-Day, June 6th 1944, 2nd Lieutenant George E. Schmidt, E Company 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, led 30 men from E Company in an assault against this farm building from the direction of Angoville-au-Plain, support by 2nd Lieutenant Walter W. Wood, C Company 501st with 20 Paratroopers from the 506th Parachute Regiment. The building and surrounding field were heavily defended by the Germans, intent on blocking the route to the 501st strategic objective of the lock at La Barquette. The attack was successful, but Lieutenant Schmidt was killed and 4 other paratrooper wounded. For displaying “…Oustanding courage, devotion to duty, and complete disregard for his own personal safety” throughout the entire action, Lieutenant Schmidt was porthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, America’s second highest award for heroism in combat. 2nd Lieutenant George E. Schmidt rest in honored glory in Plot C, Row 4, Grave 32, the Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-Sur-Mer, France”
Dead Man’s Corner Museum
On the main road leading towards Carentan and containing the important bridges over the Douve lies the Airborne Museum at Dead Man’s corner. It takes it’s name from the battles that raged after D-Day when a M3 Stuart tank was rounding the corner and was hit by a German Anti-Tank gun killing all the crew. The tank commander had been standing looking out of the turret when the tank was hit and died slumped over the turret, when troops where giving direction they would refer to this location as ‘The corner with the dead guy in the tank.’ which eventually became ‘The dead mans corner’. The road leading up to it from Carentan was named Purple Heart Highway as it was so dangerous to traverse.
Carentan : Battle of the Marshes
The Allies considered the city of Carentan, located slightly to the north of the flooded marsh land and at the entrance to the Cotentin peninsula, a priority objective. Many American parachutists were killed in the inhospitable terrain on the night of the Allied landing, and the city was bombed several times after June 6th.
On June 9th, the German artillery’s 88 mm cannons stopped the American advance toward Carentan on the heights of Saint-Hilaire-Petitville. There was only one solution for the U.S. force : follow Highway 13 from Saint-Côme-du-Mont into the city. The road however, was protected by German machine guns and cannons, and the bridge across the Douve River had been destroyed, while that at La Madeleine was blocked with Beligum gates.
On the night of June 9th, American patrols followed ditches through the marsh land and located the German positions. Bombarded by Allied artillery the next day, the German positions were taken on June 11th in fierce, hand-to-hand combat, most famously with Lt. Col. Cole leading the only know Bayonet charge of world war II. The Americans advanced into Carentan on June 12th and were greeted by a joyous, flag waving population. Bottle of fine wine that had been hidden during the occupation appeared as if by magic, but there was little time for celebrating because the Germans launched several counter-attacks that evening and the following day. (This would be known as a the Battle of the Bloody Gulch some 1km to the southwest of Carentan)
The five day battle on the exposed terrain to liberate Carentan was extremely violent and costly. Besides the lost of lives amongst the finest Allied and German troops, Carentan suffered enormously, many houses and buildings were destroyed and some 50 civilians were killed.