BEACHHEAD (D PLUS 1)
The 82d Division at Ste. Mere-Eglise
The dawn of D plus 1 confronted the 82d Airborne Division with the unsolved problems of the day before. The la Fiere bridge and Ste. Mere- Eglise remained the critical areas in the western sector. Until 0900 the division continued to be out of touch with higher headquarters. D Day had left all of the division units hard-pressed, and General Ridgway's primary concern was in the arrival of expected tank and infantry reinforcements. At the close of the day he had reported his position, his losses in men and materiel, and his need for artillery, antitank guns, ammunition, and medical supplies. He had stated that he was prepared to continue his mission when reinforcements came. But the communication was one-way and General Ridgway did not even know whether his messages got through.
More fruitful was a D-Day contact by patrol with the 4th Division. Late in the evening Lt. Col. W. F. Winton, assistant G-3, took a patrol northeast in the direction of Beuzeville-au-Plain. He contacted elements of the 12th Infantry and went on south to the division command post at Audouville-la-Hubert. At midnight he talked to General Barton, from whom he obtained for the first time information on the 4th Division. At 0800 the next morning he returned to his own command post with assurance of relief by the 8th Infantry and Colonel Raff's force, the advance elements of the seaborne Howell Force which had tried to break through to the 82d Division the night before.
Between the 82d Airborne Division's main body at Ste. Mere-Eglise and the 8th Infantry at les Forges the enemy still had a large force, holding the ridge between Fauville and Turqueville and blocking the highway south of Ste. Mere-Eglise (Map No. 11 ). Another enemy force was threatening the 82d Division from the north. The elimination of these enemy forces became the main preoccupation of both the 8th Infantry and the 505th Parachute Infantry on D plus 1.
MAP NO. 11
The 8th Infantry attacked the Turqueville salient on the morning of 7 June, with the objective of establishing contact with the 82d Airborne Division at Ste. Mere-Eglise. The 1st Battalion's attack on Turqueville itself was the first to get under way late in the morning, and succeeded in eliminating the eastern tip of the enemy salient. Turqueville was held by a battalion of Georgians (79th), which initially put up a stiff fight but was finally talked into surrender. During the morning the 4th Division G-l, Lt. Col. Gorlan A. Bryant, Sgt. John Svonchek, and a driver had left the division command post intending to visit the 22d Infantry. They had made a wrong turn at Audouville and had driven west, into the enemy position near Ecoqueneauville, where they were taken prisoner. They were moved to a house south of Turqueville and held there along with twenty-three American parachutists. When it was learned that the enemy unit was Georgian, Sergeant Svonchek, who spoke
Meanwhile, the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 8th Infantry had attacked northward from their positions in the les Forges area to link up with the 82d Airborne Division at Ste. Mere-Eglise. The 3d Battalion advanced astride the highway while the 2d Battalion attacked toward Ecoqueneauville. As the two battalions reached a creek bed in front of the enemy lines, they received heavy machine-gun and artillery fire from enemy positions along the ridge Fauville-Ecoqueneauville. The 3d Battalion was held up and had one of the severest fights of these first few days, but as the 2d Battalion took Ecoqueneauville both battalions continued their advance toward Ste. Mere-Eglise. South of the town, enemy interdiction of the road caused the 2d Battalion to circle to the east and make an approach to the town from the northeast. But almost immediately after it had established contact with the 505th Parachute Infantry within the town, it was engaged by the enemy north of Ste. Mere-Eglise. The main German position was to the west of the highway. Colonel MacNeely (2d Battalion, 8th Infantry) and Colonel Vandervoort (2d Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry) planned a coordinated attack. The 2d Battalion of the 505th moved up astride the road and attacked, supported by tanks, while the 2d Battalion, 8th Infantry, crossed the road behind the 505th Parachute Infantry and attacked on its left. By the end of the day the two battalions had killed or captured 300 Germans and cleared the enemy from his positions to the west of the highway.
Earlier in the afternoon an enemy armored thrust from the north had been beaten back on the very edge of Ste. Mere-Eglise by an American tank force. This force had been dispatched by order of the Corps commander himself, who learned of the 82d Division's request for assistance upon his arrival at the Corps command post late in the morning after he had come ashore. At the 4th Division's command post, across the road, General Collins met one of General Ridgway's staff officers, who outlined General Ridgway's situation and repeated the 82d Division commander's desire for tanks to meet a threatened armored attack. General Barton still had tanks of the 746th Tank Battalion in reserve at Reuville, and General Collins ordered these to be sent to General Ridgway under the officer's guidance.
On reaching Ste. Mere-Eglise the tank column turned north. After moving a few hundred yards it received heavy artillery and mortar fire from an enemy armored column, consisting of five tanks and a few other vehicles, about 300 or 400 yards away. Lt. Houston Payne, in the leading American tank, shot at the first enemy tank, setting it afire, and then knocked out an antitank gun on the side of the road. As both American and enemy tanks were in column only the lead tanks had targets. Lieutenant Payne destroyed one more enemy tank before his ammunition was exhausted and then moved back to permit the second tank to come forward.
Seeking a way of attacking the flank of the enemy column, Lt. Col. C. G. Hupfer, the 746th Tank Battalion commander, had in the meantime reconnoitered to the east and north and found, to the right of the highway, a trail which led straight north about a mile and joined a secondary road which entered Neuville-au-Plain. Some of the American tanks drove north on this trail and entered Neuville-au-Plain. At a cost of 2 of their own they destroyed 2 enemy tanks, took 60 prisoners, freed 19 American parachutists, and forced the German armored column to retreat northward. They stayed in Neuville-au-Plain until
MAP NO. 12
It is not clear whether the German armor which had supported the infantry attack along the highway had come from Neuville-au-Plain, but the two actions do not appear to have been coordinated. Whatever the enemy's intentions, Lieutenant Payne's engagement with the German armor and Colonel MacNeely's and Colonel Vandervoort's later attack west of the highway removed the enemy threat to the town and allowed the 82d Division units in Ste. Mere-Eglise to give more attention to developments along the Merderet.
Even before the German threat north of Ste. Mere-Eglise had been eliminated, the anxiety at the command post of the 82d Airborne Division had been relieved, and General Ridgway reported to Corps that the "situation is under control." Contact had been established with elements of the 8th Infantry south of Ste. Mere-Eglise and the 325th Glider Infantry had arrived and was ready for commitment against the enemy to the west. Shortly thereafter General Collins made his first personal contact with General Ridgway in the latter's command post west of Ste. Mere-Eglise.
The 325th Glider Infantry had arrived in two serials, one at 0700 and one at 0900. Although the landings were somewhat scattered, most of them were made in the les Forges area. One serial received ground fire from enemy positions to the north and there was a total of 160 landing casualties. But the regiment was given some protection by the attacks of the 8th Infantry and it made a rapid assembly near the les Forges crossroads.
The 325th Glider Infantry had the mission of proceeding to Chef-du-Pont as division reserve. But when Col. Harry L. Lewis (commanding officer) contacted division headquarters by radio at about 1000, he was instructed to use at least part of his force to eliminate the enemy force in the Carquebut area, where the Germans were threatening the security of the Chef-du-Pont bridge and causeway. The 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, had been unable to divert forces to counter this threat. At the same time Colonel Raff received orders to bring his seaborne force up to Chef-du-Pont and then to the 82d Airborne Division command post. While Colonel Raff carried out his orders, arriving at the division command post at noon, Colonel Lewis took his 3d Battalion to the Carquebut area and sent the other two to Chef-du-Pont. He found Carquebut evacuated by the enemy and proceeded to rejoin the other two battalions. The 1st Battalion was then sent, under General Gavin's order, to la Fiere, and the 2d Battalion to Ste. Mere-Eglise, where it was to be attached to the 505th Parachute Infantry for operation in the north on the 8th Infantry's left.
Meanwhile, the action at la Fiere bridge had been a continued stalemate. Enemy counterattacks were repulsed and the American position was slightly strengthened by reorganization. But no progress had been made in establishing a bridgehead on the west bank. In the evening the 1st Battalion of the 505th, which during the day had fought of the enemy with heavy losses at la Fiere, was released to Regiment for the next day's operation. The 82d Airborne Division forces west of the Merderet remained isolated. In general, the situation of the 82d at the end of D plus 1 had been solidified, particularly around Ste. Mere-Eglise, although its D-Day mission was still unaccomplished.
The 4th Division extended the northern arc of the beachhead some two miles on D plus 1 in its advance toward its D-Day objectives, and pushed the enemy back against his main headland fortresses at Azeville and Crisbecq.
The 12th Infantry had come up on the left of the 502d Parachute Infantry late on D Day, just south of Beuzeville-au-Plain. On 7 June t attacked northwestward toward the high round crossed by the Ste. Mere-Eglise- Montebourg highway north of Neuville-au-Plain. The 1st Battalion took a strong point southwest of Beuzeville-au-Plain; the 2d Battalion fought a sharp engagement on the eastern outskirts of Neuville-au-Plain, but did not take possession of the town, thus necessitating its capture by other units later in the day. In the middle of the morning the two battalions pressed their attack northward. Early in the afternoon they were stopped on the forward slopes of the hills between Azeville and le Bisson, where they reorganized for the night. The gap between the 12th Infantry's left flank and the 8th Infantry was covered by guns of Company A, 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
Probably the most difficult of the 4th Division's missions were those assigned the 22d Infantry on the division's right flank. The regiment had the task of reducing both the strongpoints along the beaches and the heavily fortified headland batteries two to three miles inland and west of the inundations. On D plus 1 the first attacks against the enemy's inland positions were made by the 1st and 2d Battalions.
The two battalions had spent most of D Day moving across the inundated area, but had come through almost without losses. From their positions at St. Germain-de-Varreville, where they had relieved the 502d Parachute Infantry, they started out at 0700 on 7 June, with the 1st Battalion on the right advancing astride the highway which runs parallel to the coastline, and the 2d Battalion using the trails to the west. They moved rapidly until they approached the higher ground between Azeville and de Dodainville, where they received fire from the forts of Crisbecq and Azeville. The 1st Battalion pushed on to enter St. Marcouf.
The two battalions now faced the enemy's two most powerful coastal forts. With their heavy guns (the Crisbecq guns were 210-mm.) these forts threatened the beaches as well as shipping and stood as the last serious barrier before the regiment's D-Day objectives. Each position consisted of four massive concrete blockhouses in a line; they were supplied with underground ammunition storage dumps, interconnected by communication trenches, and protected against ground attack by automatic weapons and wire. An arc of concrete sniper pillboxes outposted the southern approaches to Azeville. Crisbecq mounted the larger guns and occupied a more commanding position on the headland overlooking the beaches.
Immediate attacks were launched against both forts. The 2d Battalion tried for several hours to move forward against the Azeville position, but a counterattack drove it back to its line of departure with considerable losses. The 1st Battalion attack on Crisbecq was even more fiercely contested. As the battalion passed through St. Marcouf, it received heavy artillery fire from the Azeville battery to the southwest. Company C was organized into assault sections, in the same manner as the units had been organized for the assault on the beach on D Day. It was ordered to move up a narrow trail, along with the two other rifle companies of the battalion, to blow the blockhouses. This was the only approach the battalion could make, for to the east the ground dropped off to the town of Crisbecq and the swampland, and to the west the ground was high and open. As the three companies moved forward they suffered heavy casualties from shell fire. They inched ahead, up the thickly hedged trails, but as they reached the trail block and the wire obstacles on the perimeter of the position the Germans counterattacked their left flank.
On the extreme right flank of the 22d Infantry, separated from the rest of the regiment by the inundations, the 3d Battalion meanwhile proceeded against the string of beach fortifications which extended all the way up the coast. Those which posed an immediate danger to the Utah landings lay between les Dunes de Varreville and Quineville, on the
MAP NO. 13
The 3d Battalion (Lt. Col. Arthur S. Teague) had been constituted as a task force with the mission of reducing these beach fortifications.1 The method of attack followed the pattern taught at the Assault Training Center in England. Naval gunfire adjusted by the Naval Shore Fire Control Party laid down a preparation. Then tanks and 57-mm. anti-tank guns approached within 75 to 100 yards of the fort to fire point-blank, while infantrymen moved, often through waist-deep water, to the rear of the strong point under the cover of mortar fire. The enemy, however, would allow the men to come near the fort before opening up with small- arms fire, and in addition subjected the assaulting troops to artillery fire from inland batteries. The reduction of the forts thus turned out to be slow and costly.
On D Day the 3d Battalion had advanced 2,000 yards beyond Exit 3 and destroyed one fort. On D plus 1 it advanced another 2,000 yards and captured two more. As it faced the fort at Hamel de Cruttes on the evening of 7 June, it received orders to move inland as regimental reserve, since a counterattack was feared against the shattered 1st and 2d Battalions of the 22d Infantry. Colonel Teague left Company K, supported by the chemical mortar company, a machine gun platoon, an antitank platoon, and one-half of the NSFCP, to contain the strong point, and moved the remainder of the battalion inland to the vicinity of Ravenoville. That same evening, in the one gain of the day for the 22d Infantry, the battalion recrossed the inundation to capture the beach fort at Taret de Ravenoville. The fort had been shelled by the Navy, and a number of Germans had slipped out to surrender. One of them reported that many of the Germans still inside the fort wished to surrender but until this time had been prevented from doing so by their officers. On the strength of this information Colonel Teague obtained permission to move the bulk of his battalion from Ravenoville northeast across the inundated area and close in on the rear of the fort. A prisoner who was sent ahead returned with the entire garrison of eighty- two Germans. Colonel Teague and his men billeted themselves in the fort for the night. Between Taret de Ravenoville and Company K to the south three enemy strong points still held out. One of these surrendered the following day.
On the southern arc of the beachhead the leading elements of the 101st Airborne Division converged on St. Come-du-Mont on D plus 1 in preparation for an attack on the bridges which span the Douve and its tributaries northwest of Carentan (Map No. 13). The enemy held stubbornly to the ground commanding the approaches to the Douve, and it was feared that, unless he was dislodged, he would bring up reinforcements over the bridges. It was here that the main effort of the 101st Division was made on D plus 1. Farther east, Captain Shettle's men of the 506th Parachute Infantry and Colonel Johnson's miscellaneous forces continued to hold their positions at the la Barquette lock and the le Port bridges.
After dark on D Day Captain Shettle's engineers had prepared the two le Port bridges for demolition, but on the morning of D plus 1 the Germans made no attempt to cross the
1 Attached to it were a naval shore fire control party (NSFCP), a platoon of tanks from Company A, 746th Tank Battalion, Company D of the 87th Chemical (4.2) Mortar Battalion, and a platoon of Company C, 4th Engineer Combat Battalion.
The enemy force which Captain Shettle's patrols dealt with that afternoon turned out to be elements of the 6t Parachute Regiment. The bulk of this force attacked Colonel Johnson's group of some 250 men at the la Barquette lock that same afternoon. Colonel Johnson had improved his position the night of D Day but he was short of ammunition and still isolated. Patrols which he had sent out during the day to look for the 506th Parachute Infantry did not return. In the hope of getting a resupply of ammunition, Colonel Johnson laid out an orange panel. Shortly after dawn a plane passed over, and a drop was made at 0630, but the bundles landed in marshes covered by enemy fire and could not be retrieved.
At about 1500 Colonel Johnson saw the German troops approaching his position from the northeast. At first he was not sure whether they were friendly or hostile. They came straight through the fields and marshes and seemed headed directly for the river. Colonel Johnson's position faced south and he had to redispose his men and machine guns to meet this threat from the north. The Germans moved carelessly, bunched together without advance security. When they approached within 350 yards, all of Colonel Johnson's men, at a signal, opened fire. The Germans took cover, returned fire, and sent up a rocket signal, which shortly brought mortar and artillery fire on Johnson's men. It was difficult to spot the Germans in the clumps of tall grass, and after the fire fight had gone on for a while Colonel Johnson became worried about the expenditure of ammunition. At that time several cries of "Kamerad" from across the fields indicated that he might possibly get the whole enemy force to surrender. He gave the cease fire order and went forward with two volunteers.
As the three men walked forward carrying an orange flag, the firing on both sides stopped. But shortly it broke out again, wounding the colonel and one of his men. They crawled back 125 yards to their own lines and the fight continued. In about half an hour the German fire slackened and Colonel Johnson decided to try again. This time he and the two enlisted men were met halfway by two wounded German privates, who said that they wanted to surrender but that their officers were shooting men who talked about it. Colonel Johnson sent one man back to the German lines with the message that the Germans were to surrender in thirty minutes or be annihilated by "our superior forces." The firing was resumed at that time, but exactly thirty minutes later the first small group of Germans formed a column and came into the American lines. It was the beginning of a procession of 350 Germans which continued until after dark. At the end came the battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel, who wanted to "talk over" his surrender. About 150 Germans had been killed or wounded; the rest escaped to Carentan. Colonel Johnson's force had lost ten killed and thirty wounded.
The appearance of enemy paratroops in this area was not entirely expected. While the 91st Division was known to have two or three
Meanwhile, Colonel Johnson had not abandoned the plan to reach the Douve bridges along the Carentan causeway and had been trying to get Colonel Ballard's force at Bse. Addeville to join him. But Colonel Ballard was still engaged and could not shake free at that time nor on the following day. Consequently Colonel Johnson's men remained in position at la Barquette during all of 8 June.
Communications had been so poor on D Day that only Colonel Johnson knew definitely that the bridges had not been blown. General Taylor and General McAuliffe, lacking that information, conferred with Colonel Sink of the 506th Parachute Infantry at the latter's command post at Culoville late in the afternoon of D Day and decided to send the 506th on a reconnaissance in force southward. It was to pass through Vierville and Beaumont and then continue southward to the west of Colonel Ballard's 2d Battalion of the 501st Parachute Infantry, which had been engaged at les Droueries throughout D Day.
The 1st Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry led the regimental column on the morning of D plus 1 down the road from Culoville to Vierville. From the beginning the column was harassed by snipers firing from the front and the flanks. Finally, at Vierville it stopped long enough to clear the houses. From that town Colonel Sink and General Taylor saw several hundred men moving about in the open field some 2,000 yards to the southeast. It was the battalion of German parachutists which later attacked the rear of Captain Shettle's and Colonel Johnson's positions on the Douve. Bunched as they were, the Germans would have made an excellent target, but Colonel Sink hesitated because he was not sure they were enemy. A patrol was sent out to investigate, but before it reported back the column was out of sight.
At Vierville, Colonel Sink's column split. The 1st Battalion proceeded down the highway toward Beaumont, while the 2d Battalion swung off to the left with the intention of advancing on Angoville-au-Plain. Both battalions were pinned down by machine-gun and small-arms fire soon after they came out of Vierville. They moved on again when a platoon of medium tanks (Company A, 746th Tank Battalion) came up to support them. The 1st Battalion was harassed on its right flank by Germans who moved behind trees and hedges along the ridge which paralleled the road, but it finally fought its way into Beaumont. There it reorganized, but further advance was blocked by two enemy counterattacks, repulsed only after hard fighting.
Thereupon Company D and a platoon of light tanks, which had been detached from the 2d Battalion, and ordered to join the 1st, crossed to the latter's right flank. With this new power the battalion pushed ahead to the crossroads 500 yards east of St. Come-du-Mont. Company D went on to the junction of the two highways south of St. Come-du-Mont, where it ran into a convoy of eight American trucks loaded with quartermaster supplies, which had inadvertently come through German-held St. Come-du- Mont. In the meantime the 1st Battalion moved back to
Early in the afternoon Colonel Ballard had conferred with Colonel Sink at the latter's command post on coordination of the southern advance of the 506th Parachute Infantry with attacks by the 2d Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry, in the les Droueries area. As a result, Colonel Ballard was ordered to continue the attack south, which he had launched that morning, so that the 2d Battalion of the 501st might come abreast of the 506th Parachute Infantry in the vicinity of St. Come-du-Mont. At the time Colonel Ballard's force was stopped on the sunken road east of les Droueries, but he was given six medium tanks to pace his renewed attack. It was at this time that the German paratroops began crossing the marsh to the east of Colonel Ballard's command post. The enemy force might have become a serious threat, but most of it passed out of range across the marsh; only about twenty Germans camenear Ballard's flank. Of these, twelve were shot and the rest surrendered.
The tanks enabled Colonel Ballard to advance by taking care of the enemy machine guns which had been the chief obstacle. Two tanks moved out in column on the road, while two others on the left advanced abreast across the fields. The tanks attacked boldly, turrets open, spraying the hedgerows with machine-gun fire, and using 75-mm.guns against buildings and other suspected strong points. The infantry followed, taking the road junction to the southeast and capturing eight enemy machine guns on the left flank. Colonel Ballard vas ordered by Colonel Sink to hold there for the night and the battalion reorganized dug in. The two commanders then made plans for resumption of the attack on 8 June.
By the evening of 7 June a considerable force of the l01st Airborne Division had gathered in the area for the next day's attack. The 1st and 2d Battalions of the 506th Infantry and the 2d Battalion of the 501st Infantry already engaged, there now were added battalion of the 401st Glider Infantry (which had arrived by sea), the 3d Battalion of 501st Infantry, nearly two battalions of artillery, and some additional light tanks.
By the night of D plus 1 VII Corps Ached had
rounded out a beachhead 12,000 yards deep, and
it was clearthat the initial assault on the East
Cotentin had succeeded (Map 14). At the same
time, however, it was obvious that the operation
had not gone entirely according to plan. At the
end of the second
day elements of the 82d Airborne Division( the forces of Timmes, Millett, and Shanley) still remained isolated west of the Merderet. East of the river the Germans still held strong positions in both the north and south. The corps had not attained its D-Day objectives as rapidly as hoped.
To be sure, the enemy was too weak at the moment to make more than piecemeal counterattacks, and his confusion was epitomized by the parachute battalion which had wandered through American positions and surrendered
Furthermore, the situation at the beaches, where the American build-up was proceeding far from smoothly, was not reassuring. Enemy guns, some in the coastal forts and some probably mobile, continued to harass the unloading, which had already fallen behind schedule. Admiral Moon found that the congestion of shipping was causing a constant loss of time, and considered delaying the convoys. The transshipment of materiel by small craft was so slow that Brig. Gen. Williston B. Palmer, Corps artillery commander, urged the Admiral to beach LST's at full tide to permit the landing of vehicles directly. On D plus 1, 10,735 men, 1,469 vehicles, and 807 tons of supplies were landed at Utah Beach, making a total of 32,000 men, 3,200 vehicles, and 2,500 tons of supplies for the first two days. But the schedules had called for the landing of 39,722 men, 4,732 vehicles, and 7,000 tons of supplies.
The continued failure of the 82d Airborne Division to establish a bridgehead over the Merderet and the 4th Division's slow progress toward its D-Day objective on the northern flank forced the first modification in the VII Corps plan. It was originally planned that part of the 4th Division would cross the Merderet and that the entire division would then attack northward astride the river, capture Valognes, and continue northwest to Cherbourg. The 90th Division, part of which started landing on D Day, was to pass through elements of the 4th east of Montebourg and drive toward Cherbourg on the right. The implementation of these plans was predicated on the rapid attainment of the D-Day objectives. But both the 82d and the 4th had made only slow progress during the first two days. Rather than disengage the 4th Division, which had become involved along the entire northern flank, General Collins on 7 June ordered the 4th to continue its northward attack east of the Merderet and to seize the coastal forts and the line Quineville-Montebourg Station. Elements of the 82d Airborne Division (the 505th Parachute Infantry reinforced with the 2d Battalion of the 325th Glider Infantry) were to take over the left flank of this northward drive and seize the line Montebourg Station-le Ham. The remainder of the 82d was to continue on its D-Day mission of establishing a bridgehead over the Merderet. The 90th Division was given another mission a few days later. In the southern sector the 101st Airborne Division was to continue its mission of securing the southern flank of the beachhead by seizing the causeway approaches to Carentan. These tasks were to require the major efforts of VII Corps for nearly a week.