THE FORTRESS IS BREACHED
Meanwhile General Collins proceeded with plans for the assault of the semicircular perimeter of fortifications surrounding Cherbourg. An outstanding feature of the attack was to be an intensive air bombardment of the main defenses south and southwest of the city. While the three divisions probed the German lines on 21 June, arrangements for the air support were made with Maj. Gen. Elwood R. Quesada of the IX Tactical Air Command. The plan called first for eighty minutes of bombing and strafing of known enemy installations prior to H Hour by Typhoons and Mustangs of the 2d Tactical Air Force (RAF) and by fighter-bombers of the Ninth Air Force. At H Hour medium bombers of the Ninth Air Force were to begin delivering a series of attacks designed to form an aerial barrage moving northward in anticipation of the advance of the ground forces. All eleven Groups of the IX Bomber Command were to participate in the attacks on eleven defended localities.
The day and hour of the attack depended largely on the weather, which was not promising at the time. General Collins, however, tentatively scheduled the attack for 1200-1600, 22 June, and outlined the plan to the three division commanders. The principal targets for the air bombardment were to be the heavily defended areas north and east of Flottemanville-Hague and Martinvast; the fortifications astride the Valognes-Cherbourg highway at les Chevres, which barred the 79th Division's advance; and three strong points, referred to as "C," "D," and "F." "C" was a strong antiaircraft position southwest of Cherbourg in the path of the 47th Infantry. "F" and "D" were strong points on the southern approaches to Cherbourg, "D" being the formidable Fort du Roule built into the cliff overlooking the port. For the pre-H-Hour bombing, troops were to be pulled back at least 1,000 yards behind the bomb line. Artillery fire was to immediately follow this bombing and the attacking troops were to move rapidly to their initial objectives.
General Collins directed the 4th Division to continue on its mission of isolating Cherbourg from the east. Its main effort was to be made by the 12th Infantry, which was to capture heavily defended Tourlaville and then cut through to the coast (Map XIV). The 79th Division was to make its principal drive on its right, moving up the highway and seizing the high nose which commands the city and ter-
During the last few days the capture of Cherbourg had taken on an even greater urgency than had existed before. On 19 June the highest tide of the year combined with a 4-day storm had damaged unloading craft and the floating piers and roadways, threatening serious delay in the unloading of supplies. As a precaution against future shortages First Army ordered a one-third reduction in artillery ammunition expenditure in the Cherbourg attack. General Collins, in his verbal orders on 21 June, said: "This attack on Cherbourg is the major effort of the American Army and is especially vital now that unloading across the beaches has been interfered with by weather. All Division Commanders surely appreciate the importance of this attack."
On the morning of 22 June the ultimatum expired without word from the German fortress commander. The weather had turned favorable. At 0940 the Corps commander therefore notified the division commanders that the attack would be launched. H Hour was 1400. Bombing was to begin at 1240. Division and regimental commanders had already made their plans and issued field orders on the basis of the previous day's verbal orders. All that remained was for unit commanders to give last-minute instructions regarding H Hour, the withdrawal for the bombardment, and the jump-off.
A few minutes before the fighter-bombers appeared, front lines were marked with yellow smoke and bomb lines with white phosphorus. At 1240 the pre-H-Hour bombing and strafing attacks were initiated by four squadrons of rocket-firing Typhoons, followed by six squadrons of Mustangs, all from the 2d Tactical Air Force (RAF). At approximately 1300 the attacks were taken over by twelve groups of fighter-bombers of the Ninth Air Force. For fifty-five minutes P-47's, P-38's, and P-51's (562 planes) bombed and strafed front-line strong points at low level, one group coming over approximately every five minutes. Between 1300 and 1330, the 47th, 60th, and 22d Infantry Regiments all called their headquarters to say that they were being bombed and strafed by friendly planes, and sought means of stopping the attacks. These units and others suffered several casualties from the air attacks. The errors were believed to have been caused at least in part by the drift of the marking smoke in the fairly strong northeast wind. As the mediums began to come over at 1400 to bomb the German lines in front of the 9th and 79th Divisions, the attacking units jumped off; at 1430 the three regiments of the 4th Division joined the attack. Between 1400 and 1455 the eleven groups of light and medium bombers of the IX Bomber Command (387 planes) delivered their attacks on the eleven defended areas expected to give trouble in the drive on the city.
Measured by sheer physical destruction the bombardment was none too effective, except on a few targets. Its greatest effect was in cutting German communications and depressing enemy morale, but in general the bombing was scattered-as indicated by the drops to the rear of the American lines. This was the first large-scale use of medium and fighter-bombers in close support of ground troops since the launching of the Normandy operation, and coordination of all elements had not been perfected. Arrangements for the bombardment had to be made through difficult command channels. While General Quesada went to VII Corps Headquarters to work out the initial air plan, he was chiefly with First Army Headquarters at this time, and most of the aircraft were still operating from Eng-
land. The bombardment had had to be planned very hurriedly; there was insufficient time to transmit details on last-minute changes in the plan to all the parties concerned, or to coordinate artillery fires against antiaircraft batteries with the bombing attacks or even in some instances to brief pilots properly. However, fighter-bombers did exceptionally effective work in destroying some of the German positions, particularly on the west side of Cherbourg. A later analysis of the fire support in the assault on Cherbourg concluded that the best air- artillery-infantry coordination had been achieved by the 9th Division, with artillery first firing effectively against flak positions, followed by the air bombing, and then artillery resuming fire to cover the infantry advance. However, while the Corps' attack achieved penetrations of varying depth, no real breakthrough was made immediately anywhere along the Cherbourg front. All the divisions were forced to a methodical reduction of strong points. Not until 24 June were the main defenses cracked.
The primary objective of the 4th Division was the Tourlaville area, guarding the eastern approaches to Cherbourg (Map XIV). Attention was focused on the 12th Infantry, which had this mission as the center regiment. The 8th Infantry was to be pinched out when it had seized the high ground east of la Glacerie. It would then support the 12th Infantry with fire. The 22d Infantry, also assigned a supporting mission, was to assist the 12th by protecting its right and rear.
These plans were upset on 22 June when the 12th Infantry failed to break through the defenses north and northeast of the Bois du Coudray. The attack had to be launched from the edge of the woods across the Saire and up the slopes directly into enemy positions. The 2d Battalion was still in position at the northwest edge of the woods, where it had been stopped on 21 June by the enemy across the bridge.
The regimental plan on 22 June called for the 3d Battalion to attack north, circling around to the rear of the enemy opposing the 2d Battalion. The 3d Battalion moved up to the northern edge of the wood during the morning. The Germans, observing the movement, opened fire from the slopes above the creek and heavily shelled the draw formed by a small tributary of the river. The 3d Battalion replied with artillery and overhead heavy machine-gun fire. The axis of attack was shifted slightly to the right to avoid the interdicted draw. Companies I and L led out abreast at 1430, crossing the stream and proceeding up the opposite bank. With the first determined charge, the enemy broke and fled. About twenty were captured. Here the 12th Infantry identified some of the first miscellaneous units thrown into line by the Germans, such as labor service troops, which were found scattered throughout the Cherbourg area.
Across the stream the battalion wheeled to the left to carry out the original plan, but Companies I and L, after advancing west almost to the Digosville road, were stopped by heavy fire. The Germans were firing from across a draw just ahead and were entrenched around the road junction. To the rear, continued interdiction of the draw had the effect of isolating the lead companies from the rest of the battalion for a while, although Companies K and M and battalion headquarters, on the first nose north of the woods, were only about 800 yards back. The rear companies were at last guided forward across the draw, suffering only a few casualties from enemy artillery.
Reunited, the battalion tried to renew the advance, but enemy fire was so intense that the attempt had to be abandoned. Judging the forward position to be unfavorable, Lieutenant Colonel Dulin, the battalion commander,
The whole situation between Gonneville and the Bois du Coudray was fluid. The 22d Infantry was already being supplied by tank-escorted convoys. The same solution was now indicated in the case of the 12th. Tanks were already attached to this regiment, but they had not participated in the attack because the infantry did not succeed in finding suitable routes for them. With the 3d Battalion cut off, it became vital to find a route the tanks could use. Regiment sent out a patrol four times before a satisfactory route was discovered. Over this route, at 0700 on 23 June, seven medium tanks loaded with ammunition and rations moved with infantry escort. They also carried orders for the day's attack which, except for the use of tank support, did not depart from the previous day's plan.
Two tanks were attached to each of the leading companies (I and K) and three were kept in reserve. As it finally worked out, the tanks were generally confined to the road and moved in an extended column, except when they were used to clear out fields. Companies I and K advanced on either side of the road, the tanks supporting the movement with fire from the road or entering the fields to cut down enemy resistance. In this way the attack made steady progress. Company L from time to time had to fight off enemy harassing attempts from the right rear. In one raid to the rear the enemy attacked the battalion aid station, but the attack was repulsed by a platoon of Company B which had come up with the tanks that morning and was guarding the aid station.
The opposition decreased as the battalion approached the Tourlaville- Hameau Gallis road. The Germans who had opposed the advance of Companies I and L with such determination the previous day had apparently retired before the tank-supported attack. At the crossroads the battalion made a sharp turn southeast and drove in on the enemy confronting the 2d Battalion in the woods. From bunkers on the slopes the Germans had been able to cover the stream bed and the approaches to their positions effectively but, hit from the rear, they gave up with hardly a struggle. The 2d Battalion was now free to cross the stream, and it was given the mission of mopping up the Mesnil au Val area. The 3d Battalion made an about-face and again took up the advance toward its objective, Tourlaville. Against sporadic opposition from detached riflemen and an occasional machine gun, the battalion moved steadily along the Tourlaville-Hameau Gallis road, its first objective being Hill 140, southeast of Tourlaville, the commanding ground between the battalion and Cherbourg. On its forward slope was a defended crossroads.
The battalion moved out once more at 2030, again with Companies I and K astride the road and the tanks between them. The tanks were withdrawn to assembly at 2100. The infantry, continuing alone, met gradually increasing enemy machine-gun and mortar fire as it neared the crossroads. Artillery was called for and, behind a succession of concentrations laid within fifty yards of the advancing troops, the battalion marched up the hill. It consolidated there for the night. Casualties in the attack had been light and an important terrain point had been captured on the route to Tourlaville.
The 3d Battalion was to have led the attack on 22 June from its position on Hill 158, west of Gonneville, while the 1st Battalion held the hill and the 2d Battalion, in position to the south, prepared to come up later on the 3d Battalion's left. Before the attack could start, however, the enemy enveloped Hill 18 and the 2d Battalion had to be committed in a mission to clear the Germans from the rear of the 3d Battalion. It was late afternoon by the time this task was completed. All three battalions were dug in on the hill for the night. The attack westward in support of the 12th Infantry therefore failed to materialize on 22 June. However, the 12th Infantry had itself failed to shake free from the Bois du Coudray for the planned attack northwestward.
In a situation that precluded bold plans, it was decided that on 23 June the 1st and 3d Battalions, 22d Infantry, should completely clear and consolidate the high ground before any further missions were undertaken. Beginning at about 0900 the 1st and 3d Battalions began to carry out this task, while the 2d Battalion sent a combat patrol south to clean up resistance north of Hameau Cauchon. To cover the mop-up operation, heavy artillery and mortar fire pounded the enemy line from Maupertus to Gonneville; part of the 24th Cavalry Squadron, together with Company B, 801st Tank Destroyer Battalion, and 4th Reconnaissance Troop, contained the enemy in the vicinity of the airfield; and tanks demonstrated toward Gonneville. Late in the day the consolidation of this ground had progressed far enough to free the 2d Battalion for an attack westward. The attack began at 1930, but before it reached the line of departure it was turned back by heavy fire from the German position southeast of Digosville. Once more the attack had to be postponed. Late that evening the battalion was attached to the 12th Infantry for the advance against Tourlaville.
The objective assigned the 8th Infantry on 22 June was the high ground east of la Glacerie, lying between the Trotebec and its main tributary, which formed the regiment's boundaries. The regiment was attacking into a wedge and upon reaching its objectives was to be pinched out. But between the Bois du Roudou and the objective the enemy had at least three strong defensive positions. To reduce these took three full days.
On the morning of 22 June, the 2d Battalion, 8th Infantry, was still fighting for the possession of Crossroads 148, near la Bourdonnerie. While that fight was taking place the 1st and 3d Battalions prepared to jump off to the northwest. Several small enemy counterattacks had to be broken up by artillery before the two battalions could move out at 1430. The 1st Battalion made only small gains northwest of the Bois du Roudou. The 3d Battalion attacked northward, bypassing a buzz-bomb installation, and headed toward a strong point about 1,000 yards away. The Germans in this position had cut lanes of fire in the hedgerows and waited until the battalion was almost on the position, when they suddenly opened fire. The attack stopped short and flattened. In a flanking maneuver through the woods on the right, Company I was hit by tree-burst artillery fire and suffered over fifty casualties, but the battalion eventually reached its objective by night. Altogether the battalion lost thirty-one killed and ninety-two wounded.
The enemy, organized as Kampfgruppe Rohrbach, was a conglomeration containing
On 23 June the attack was to be renewed at 0730, but was delayed for an hour by poor communication and by enemy harassment of supply routes, which held up resupply of the tanks. When the attack finally got under way it made little progress due to enemy artillery and mortar fire, which the 3d Battalion at first thought came from friendly units. After additional artillery, mortar, and cannon fires the two battalions again pushed the attack. By 1400 the 1st Battalion had moved about 1,00 yards west of the Bois du Roudou, but in the evening it was counterattacked and the 81-mm. mortar platoon had to abandon its equipment. Although the mortars were recovered later, the battalion's attack was temporarily disorganized. Meanwhile, the 3d Battalion assaulted a strong point 500 yards away and found the enemy forming an attack at the same time. As the American tanks and infantry moved through the wooded area east of the position, they found the Germans lying head to heel in the ditches along the hedgerows. A
Similar in character to the 4th Division's struggle was the fight of the 79th Division, attacking in the relatively narrow middle sector between the Trotebec and Divette Rivers (Map XIV). The division's logical route of attack was the main Valognes-Cherbourg highway. Major obstacles to its advance were three prepared defense areas along the highway. The first, near les Chevres, straddled the road and tied in with the upper reaches of the Trotebec and Douve Rivers to form a continuous line of defense. The ground, relatively bare at this point, allowed good defensive fields of fire. In addition to the usual trenches, rifle pits, and emplaced guns, there was a zigzag tank ditch extending well to both sides of the highway and tying in with the streams on either side. About two miles farther along, commanding the highway approach, was strong point "F," at la Mare a Canards. Another two miles north was Fort du Roule, Target "D," dominating Cherbourg harbor and heavily defended against air and land attack. In addition to these three strong points, there was a fortified area to the west of the Cherbourg-Valognes highway on the forward slopes of the ridge along which ran the road to Hardinvast.
General Wyche's plan for 22 June called for an attack by three regiments abreast. The 313th Infantry was to continue the main effort, generally astride the highway, with the fortified positions at les Chevres as the first objective. At 1400, following the air bombardment, the division jumped off, each regiment in a column of battalions.
The 1st Battalion of the 313th was fired on from pillboxes and bunkers near les Chevres shortly after its jump-off, but these positions were reduced when the 3d Battalion, pushing up on the left, enveloped them while the 1st Battalion attacked frontally. The regiment then reorganized and resumed the advance with the 1st and 3d Battalions abreast and the 2d Battalion echeloned to the right rear. The 2d Battalion became involved with enemy troops in the wooded area of the upper Trotebec and lost direction, delaying the regiment. But the 1st and 3d Battalions, with about seventy men of the 2d, finally resumed the advance astride the highway and late that night (at 0200) reached a point 400 yards north of the junction of Hardinvast road with the Cherbourg highway (Crossroads 177). The 313th Infantry reported that the air bombardment had damaged the German installations very little, but that nevertheless it had made the attack easier.
The 1st Battalion of the 314th Infantry meanwhile led the attack in the center. All companies of the battalion met fierce resistance as they attempted to force their way through the draws east of Tollevast. Company C made a wide swing on the left, but was badly shot up and became disorganized in the vicinity of this village. All attempts to break through during the day were without success. After dark the 3d Battalion slipped around the enemy positions just to the west of the highway and succeeded in tying in with the 313th Infantry west of Crossroads 177. The 1st Battalion also disengaged late that night and followed the 3d, coming in on its left at about 0200 the next morning. Two battalions of the 314th and part of the 313th now held a line along the east-west road which crosses the Cherbourg highway at Crossroads 177.
The 315th Infantry meanwhile became occupied with the task of clearing the Hardin-
On the morning of 23 June both the 1st and 3d Battalions of the 314th found themselves cut off from the rear elements of the regiment. In skirting the enemy positions west of the highway during the night, the two battalions left the Germans free to move back and cut the regiment's supply route. The 313th Infantry was likewise without a line of communications to the rear. Measures were immediately taken to reopen the supply routes. The forward battalions of the 314th organized a task force for this purpose, and Regiment at the same time sent the 2d Battalion forward, thus reestablishing the main supply route.
In the meantime an attack on the two strongpoints straddling the highway at la Mare a Canards was planned by the 314th Infantry. Division arranged to have the position, known as "F" in Corps orders, dive-bombed at 0900. The air attack took place as scheduled, but had no noticeable effect, and another mission was therefore planned two hours later. While these arrangements were being made the 3d Battalion jumped off and occupied part of the objective. Division consequently requested that the air attack be can-
The 1st Battalion's attack, launched a bit later, was more successful. Company A, in fact, broke through to the northwest and occupied the long narrow ridge 1,00 to 1,800 yards northwest of the enemy fortifications at la Mare a Canards. Objective "F" had not been captured, and Company A therefore occupied a position well out in front of the rest of the division. However, the company continued to occupy the ridge, while the remainder of the regiment withdrew to permit still another air attack on the enemy positions the following day.
Like the 4th and 79th Divisions, the 9th engaged in some of its hardest fighting in the day and a half following the jump-off, but by the night of 23 June it had broken the hard crust of the Cherbourg defenses and occupied the commanding ground southwest of Cherbourg near the Bois du Mont du Roc (Map XIV)
On 21 June the 39th Infantry had been committed on the right flank of the division to develop enemy positions east of the Divette. Late in the day its mission was changed. During the night it was withdrawn from its position east of the Divette and moved to an assembly area in the vicinity of Helleville. Since the 9th Division's main effort was still to be made on the right, moving the 39th Infantry behind the 47th would place it in position to reinforce the latter and give depth to its attack.
The main impact of the division's drive on 22 June fell roughly along the line Acqueville-Sideville. East of the road running north from Teurtheville-Hague the Germans were well entrenched along a crest of high ground. The enemy line crossed a creek east of Boguenville and more strong points were located on the forward slopes of Hill 171 (Bois du Mont du Roc), west of Sideville. North of Acqueville the 60th Infantry was to attack with battalions echeloned to the left, since the whole left flank was open and the enemy situation on this side was vague. From Crossroads 114 to Sideville the attack was to be carried by the 47th Infantry, all three battalions attacking at once.
Profiting from the air bombardment, the units of the 9th Division made good initial gains. Within half an hour, the 2d Battalion, 47th Infantry, passed Crossroads 114 and the 3d Battalion pressed beyond Boguenville. Within an hour the 1st Battalion was across the stream east of the village. The 60th Infantry took Acqueville half an hour after the jump-off.
But the ease of this advance was deceptive. Both the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 47th Infantry had bypassed strong enemy positions along the high ground northeast of Crossroads 114 and between the crossroads and Boguenville. In probing for weaknesses one company of the 2d Battalion had passed to the left of the crossroads position, and one to the right. Meanwhile the 3d Battalion pushed through Boguenville while artillery fire neutralized the enemy positions northwest of the town. With the continuing aid of artillery, Colonel Clayman (3d Battalion) pushed two companies across the stream and started up the slopes of Hill 171. The 3d Battalion soon found itself dangerously out on a limb, for on its right the 1st had been stopped shortly after crossing the stream. Before attempting any further advance Colonel Clayman therefore wanted his flanks cleared, particularly the left.
Similarly, the 60th Infantry, after taking Acqueville, found progress more difficult. It attacked the fortifications southwest of Flottemanville-Hague initially with one battalion and made little progress. After a small counterattack early in the evening another battalion was committed on the left, and the two were able to fight their way to the edge of the enemy positions, where they were nearly on a line with the 47th Infantry on the right. There was still a gap between the regiments, through which some enemy infiltrated during the night.
By the night of 22 June the 9th Division had maneuvered into position to make the final thrust through the main Cherbourg defenses. The critical enemy defense areas at Flottemanville-Hague and Hill 171, though not yet overrun, were closely pressed, and another day's action was likely to result in their capture. The enemy was committing miscellaneous static troops to eke out a thin defensive line, and commanders were ordered to save
On 23 June, the 39th Infantry joined the attack with tank destroyer support and cleared fortified positions on the heights northwest of Boguenville bypassed the previous day. At the same time the 47th and 60th Infantry Regiments resumed their attempt to break through toward Cherbourg. The 47th attacked to consolidate its hold on Hill 171 and reduce an enemy antiaircraft position to the west. After the 1st Battalion had been stopped by heavy concentrations from the German antiaircraft guns, the 2d and 3d Battalions were finally sent against the flak positions late in the day. Before dark the 2d Battalion was on its objective and the 3d had reached the southern edge of the German positions. The attack netted four hundred prisoners and large quantities of materiel.
The 60th Infantry waited nearly all day for air bombardment of the Flottemanville-Hague defense. After the bombing, which was delivered at 2000, and the artillery concentrations which followed, it took the 1st and 2d Battalions less than two hours to move up and occupy their objectives.
The enemy's fortified line had been broken. The 9th Division was ready for the final drive into Cherbourg with the 60th Infantry in position to protect the northern flank from counterattack and the 47th Infantry, supported by the 39th, astride the ridge leading to the port.
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