Breaking the German Line in the North
Map No. 20: Ecausseville and Le Ham, 8-11 June 1944
The terrain in the northern one of the beachhead did not offer the enemy as strong a natural barrier as the swamps and rivers in the south, but it still favored him over VII Corps. The ground generally rises to the north, giving the defender commanding heights, and it is liberally crisscrossed with hedgerows (Map I). Fortifications in the fields and along the beaches, as well as the large forts at Azeville, Crisbecq, and Ozeville, supported the German defense in depth. A backstop line for the forward defensive positions was anchored to the coast at Quinéville; it stretched inland along a high ridge to Montebourg and then bent southwestward along a salient of solid ground which points down between the Merderet and two of its tributaries. The backstop line roughly paralleled the Quinéville-Montebourg-le Ham highway and tied in with the Merderet River at le Ham. It was part of VII Corps' D-Day objective, but five infantry regiments took a full week, from 8 to 14 June, to reach and secure it. (Map III).
The western half of the objective was assigned to the 8th Infantry, which was to take the area between Montebourg and the Montebourg Station, and to the 505th Parachute Infantry (with the 2d Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry, attached), which was to take the high ground between the station and le Ham (Map No. 20). Defending the le Ham- Quinéville line during the first days of the operation were elements of the 709th and 243d Divisions, as well as such reinforcements as the Sturm Battalion AOK 7.
The Penetration at Ecausseville
The 8th Infantry jumped off from Ste. Mère-Eglise on the morning of 8 June and attacked along the eastern side of the Ste. Mère-Eglise- Montebourg highway. It was opposed from the beginning by artillery fire, but its first contact with enemy infantry came at Neuville-au-Plain. There American forces had already fought the enemy three times but had not taken possession of the town. The Germans yielded the town again after a sharp skirmish in mid-afternoon. Beyond Neuville-au-Plain the going was easier, as the 8th Infantry turned to the left and continued its attack on the western side of the highway. As it approached Fresville and Grainville, enemy artillery and sniper fire increased and slowed down the regiment.
On the left of the 8th Infantry the 505th Parachute Infantry began its advance northward at 0800, with its 2d Battalion on the right and the 2d Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry, on the left. The 3d Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, followed on the left rear, screening the attack from the strong enemy forces across
THE HANGAR AND ECAUSSEVILLE AREAS shown in this air view lay along the 8th Infantry's axis of advance. Enemy resistance stiffened noticeably on this favorable ground, which was the scene of heavy fighting on 8-10 June. Ecausseville is at upper right; le Lande is just beyond the hangar.
the Merderet. As the regiment came abreast of Neuville-au-Plain, it swung to the northwest, as the 8th Infantry had done, and the 3rd Battalion came through the two leading battalions to take over the advance. The 3d Battalion of the 505th secured the village, while the 3d Battalion of the 8th continued north to Magneville. Here Company I fought its way through the houses on the northern side of the town into an orchard, where it came under heavy artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire from the rising ground to its front and from a fortified hangar still farther ahead across a creek. Having discovered
this concentration of German strength, Company I was pulled back in line and dug in around Magneville with the rest of the battalion. The 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, had also reached this sector and established its position eastward to the highway along a road roughly paralleling the creek. Throughout the night both battalions were under unusually heavy fire, particularly from 88-mm. guns.
The German main line of resistance ran along the north bank of the creek, a tributary of the Merderet, with main strong points at the hangar beyond Magneville and the village of Ecausseville to the north. On the commanding north bank of the creek, the enemy had dug in a large number of machine guns and several 88-mm. guns, and he was supported by other artillery, mortars, and Nebelwerfers, registered on all routes of approach. These positions were part of a line extending eastward to Emondeville, Azeville, and Crisbecq. Here the Germans were making their first real effort to hold, and by 9 June they had begun to reinforce their positions with elements of the 243d Division, and with the Sturm Battalion AOK 7, which had been rushed down from Cherbourg on bicycles.
At 0630 on 9 June a coordinated attack by the 1st and 3d Battalions, 8th Infantry, and the 2d Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry, was launched against the German line between the highway and the Merderet. A half- hour concentration by at least three battalions of artillery preceded the jump-off. The 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, was stopped at its line of departure; the other two battalions crossed only the first few fields. All three battalions then felt the full weight of the enemy's fire from across the creek. The 1st and 2d Battalions of the 505th Parachute Infantry prepared to follow in column behind the 2d Battalion of the 325th Glider Infantry on the left, to be employed as needed. Colonel Ekman, commanding the 505th, planned an advance up to the creek and then a slash almost directly west to le Ham by the glider battalion. The 2d Battalion of the 505th, following the leading
glider infantry, was to continue on its right and attack northwest to Montebourg Station. The 1st Battalion was to become the reserve, while the 3d Battalion remained on the defensive near Grainville, covering the bridge over the Merderet and protecting the rear of the regiment.
After crossing the first few fields the 2d Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry, became so cramped between the river and the 8th Infantry's zone that it had no room for maneuver and was pinned down within 200 yards of the creek by artillery and mortar fire from the front and from the left flank. To the rear, at Grainville, the 3d Battalion of the 505th was taking losses from artillery and machine-gun fire from across the river. Throughout the afternoon the regiment was unable to advance.
Late in the afternoon Colonel Ekman decided to send the 2d Battalion of the 505th forward across the creek to the right of the 2d Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry. The attack was to have the support of the 456th and 319th Field Artillery Battalions and of Battery C of the 80th Antiaircraft Battalion, and it was to be coordinated with an attack by the 8th Infantry. Colonel Ekman had asked for a 115-minute artillery concentration and white phosphorus to screen the infantry advance, but when the time for the attack came his communications failed him; the 319th Field Artillery Battalion (the general support battalion) was pulled away for another mission, and he was refused the white phosphorus because he had no authentication. Under the circumstances he canceled the attack. When
GERMAN DUAL PURPOSE 88-MM. GUN. Artillery fire which slowed the northward advance of the 4th Division was almost invariably believed to come from the dreaded "88," often difficult to locate because of frequent changes in position.
THE ORCHARD AREA WEST OF THE HANGAR was the scene of determined enemy resistance to then advance of the 3d Battalion, 8th Infantry, on 9 June. Part of the battalion halted at the creek, the location if which is indicated by the dotted line.
he notified the 8th Infantry of his decision, he learned that the 3d Battalion of that regiment, on his right, was getting ready to go into a defensive position for the night. Therefore the 505th Parachute Infantry also dug in.
The attack of the 8th Infantry on 9 June had met with more success following its initial difficulties, but at the cost of hard fighting and heavy losses. The Germans answered the preparatory fire promptly, and both the 1st and 3d Battalions, which were leading the attack, came under heavy shelling. The 1st Battalion on the right was stopped on its line of departure and stayed there all morning. The 3d Battalion attacked toward the hangar. Companies L and I reached the creek together. Company L was to flank the hangar on the left, but it was stopped at the creek, which in its zone was too wide to jump. Company I crossed the creek at a narrow place to the right of Company L and charged straight across the large, flat, open field beyond, through the grazing fire from enemy positions near the hangar and along the edge of the orchard to the north. The men crossed at a dead run without firing and, although they suffered heavy losses, two platoons and the command post group with the mortars managed to make their way into the orchards north of the hangar. There they were stopped by fire from houses in la Lande to the north, and from the fields to the northeast.
Company I was out 1,000 yards ahead of the rest of the regiment, and part of the platoon on the right was separated from the main group. After two hours the company withdrew to a fire line north of the hangar buildings. Meanwhile Company L managed to cross the creek and in close- in fighting captured the hangar area. Company I then moved to its former position in the orchard, and Company L came into line on the left. There they dug in for the night. The position was threatened by the Germans in la Lande to the north and
in Ecausseville on the right flank, and Company K was brought up to strengthen this flank.
When earlier in the day patrols had reported Ecausseville free of the enemy, Colonel Van Fleet decided to commit the 2d Battalion, 8th Infantry, in the center in an attempt to aid the 1st and 3d Battalions, both of which were temporarily stalled. At about 1400 two platoons of Company E led the attack, advancing up the trail which skirts the bend in the creek. No opposition was met until the scouts were almost at the creek. Then the enemy opened up with artillery, mortars, and machine guns. The leading platoons piled into the trail behind the shelter of the hedgerows. But the German artillery was accurately registered, and time fire or tree bursts lined the trail with American dead. Some of the men moved to the left and northward to knock out a German machine gun which had enfiladed the trail, but discovered the enemy strongly entrenched in an orchard. Others advanced beyond the eastern bend of the trail to find cover, but the fire followed them there. A direct hit destroyed a mortar; an attached platoon of heavy machine guns from Company H lost two of its guns. To avoid the enemy fire fourteen men of the 1st Platoon moved so far to the east that they lost contact with their company and joined the 1st Battalion, with which they fought for the next two days. The confusion was increased when a false order, reported to have come "from the rear," started a retreat along the trail. It drew most of the company back about 400 yards and, after it was checked, less than 75 men remained dug in behind a hedgerow. The company had lost all its mortars, half of its machine guns, and between fifty and sixty men. About mid-afternoon Company E was ordered to withdraw to a line abreast of the 1st Battalion, and at 1730 it was further withdrawn to the 2d Battalion assembly area to reorganize.
Late in the day the 1st Battalion took up the attack again on the regiment's right flank and this time succeeded in breaking through. It attacked at 1900 and, preceded by two platoons of medium tanks from Company A, 70th Tank Battalion, moved up the road which runs northward from Magneville. As the tanks crossed the creeks, they machine-gunned the houses on the right, swung into the fields north of Ecausseville, and fired into the village for ten or fifteen minutes. Answered by 88- mm. guns in the village, they turned back to rejoin the infantry. On reaching the cluster of houses at the turn in the road they found them still occupied by the enemy. The tanks attacked from the rear, broke the enemy's resistance, and enabled Company A, 8th Infantry, to move in. About a hundred prisoners were taken. It was now 2100 and the battalion dug in for the night.
Ecausseville, the strongest point on the enemy's first thoroughly prepared line, had held out all day. But outflanked by the 1st Battalion's drive on the right and by the 3d Battalion's attack through the hangar sector on the left, it was abandoned by the enemy during the night.
On the following day, 10 June, both the 8th Infantry and 505th Parachute Infantry resumed their attack (Map No. 20). The 8th advanced toward the high ground at Eroudeville, which it reached that night, while the 505th moved on Montebourg Station and le Ham. The latter objective was not seized until the following day.
The Montebourg-le Ham Highway
All three battalions of the 8th Infantry jumped off early on 10 June. The 2d Battalion, moving in the center, advanced straight toward Ecausseville, which it found abandoned. Advancing northwestward it cleared the southern portion of Eroudeville, crossed the Montebourg-le Ham highway early in the evening, and fought until dark against Germans entrenched along the railway; at
dark the battalion withdrew to positions east of the highway.
Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion on the right, supported by tanks, had jumped off at 0730, following an artillery preparation. The tanks, some of them carrying infantry, advanced along the trail which passed Ecausseville on the east. When fired on, some 500 yards south of Eroudeville, the tanks dropped the infantry, moved up the trail several hundred yards, and knocked out three antitank guns. The infantry followed and in a sharp fight drove the enemy (elements of Sturm Battalion AOK 7) back toward the le Ham-Montebourg highway. As the battalion came within 300 yards of the highway, it was halted by an enemy force in Eroudeville and to the north of the village. At 1 s 00 the enemy counterattacked. Although Company C was pulled in from the right flank to reinforce the battalion, the counterattack forced a retreat of several hundred yards. The enemy's effort was finally broken after five tank thrusts into Eroudeville, and an attack by Company C enabled the 2d Battalion to take the village. No further attempt was made that night to cross the highway; the battalion dug in about 400-600 yards east of it, with Company C protecting the Montebourg flank.
On the regiment's left flank the 3d Battalion, temporarily delayed by heavy artillery fire, had started a little later than the other two battalions. It swung slightly eastward to outflank the enemy-held houses at la Lande, which had stopped it the previous night. In its advance it received artillery fire from the vicinity of the station and engaged some enemy infantry. But when the 2d Battalion began advancing through Ecausseville and the 1st Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry moved up the railway on the left, the enemy troops began to fall back. Behind a small tributary of the Merderet, the enemy made a half-hearted stand, but at 1000 the battalion attacked across the stream and in the face of heavy artillery fire drove the German infantry back to the le Ham- Montebourg highway. In the evening the battalion made another attack, which carried it beyond the highway, halfway to the railroad. Meeting heavy fire from the entrenchments along the railroad and finding itself in advance of the other two battalions on the right, the 3d Battalion pulled back east of the highway. The entire regiment was now on its objective, organizing defensive positions which it was to hold until 19 June.
In the meantime the 505th Parachute Infantry had directed its efforts to dislodging the enemy from the extreme west end of his Quinéville-le Ham line. This line was anchored in and around le Ham, situated on the solid ground which extends southwest from the Montebourg Station between two small tributaries of the Merderet. The 505th's attack on 10 June was not coordinated with that of the 8th Infantry, and in their respective advances the two regiments diverged, leaving a gap between them. For this attack Colonel Ekman planned to use the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 505th, sending them through the 2d Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry, which had been pinned down the day before and was still receiving flanking fire from across the Merderet and frontal fire from the German positions north of the creek. The 1st Battalion was to seize Montebourg Station and prepare a defensive arc to the north; the 2d Battalion was to follow the 1st beyond la Lande, swing west and cross the first Merderet tributary and railway, and then attack southwest toward le Ham. The 2d Battalion of the 325th Glider Infantry was to provide supporting fire; the 3d Battalion of the 505th was to remain at Grainville.
The air force supported the attack by bombing le Ham and the station and, as the 1st Battalion of the 505th jumped off at 1330, another air mission forced the retirement of a self-propelled gun which was firing on the battalion from a railway overpass. The artillery
support was also effective, rolling ahead of the battalion's advance. Despite all of the preparations a number of Germans still held their ground north and west of the creek and had to be driven back hedgerow by hedgerow; direct, close-range 88-mm. fire also took heavy casualties. But the 1st Battalion pushed slowly ahead and fought its way into Montebourg Station at about 1900, forcing the enemy to retire northward and southwestward toward le Ham. The 2d Battalion, following the 1st, moved farther north than had been planned in order to avoid fire from the left flank. Just below the station it turned southwest. Resistance stiffened as the enemy was squeezed into the south end of the solid ground around le Ham, and as darkness fell the attack was stopped about halfway between the station and the town. Colonel Ekman ordered the two battalions to organize a defensive position northeast of le Ham extending north around the station. The 1000-yard gap between the 505th's right flank and the 8th Infantry was covered by patrols from the 1st Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry.
The heavy enemy artillery fire which had fallen around the station eased up on the morning of 11 June. By this time the 2d Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry, was ready to go again. Instead of sending the 2d Battalion of the 505th directly against le Ham from the north Colonel Ekman decided to employ it in a holding attack north of the town to divert the fire of the enemy while the 2d Battalion of the 325th attacked into le Ham from the east. At 1015 the 456th Field Artillery Battalion fired a 15-minute concentration on the heavily fortified ground east of the town, and at 1030 the 2d Battalion of the 325th started its attack from the railroad embankment. Smoke screened the advance over the open fields and through the 500 to 600 yards of swamp along the stream. Casualties were high, but as the leading elements reached the first solid ground enemy fire temporarily slackened. The battalion pressed on through the orchards and hedgerows, but was shortly stopped by heavy small-arms fire. Depleted in strength and low in ammunition the 2d Battalion set up a defensive position and delivered spasmodic fire on the enemy. In about forty-five minutes the enemy fire died, and the Germans began to withdraw toward le Ham. A machine gun was set up to fire into the retreating troops and, for lack of radio communications with the artillery, wire was laid and a forward artillery observer stationed himself in a building from which he could see le Ham.
The attack order was given at 1800 and after a 10-minute artillery preparation the battalion pushed off, deployed on a broad front. Meeting its only resistance from a badly shaken covering force, the battalion passed abandoned field pieces and swept into le Ham. When it reached the center of town at 1955 no Germans were in sight, and no riflemen were found in the house-to-house search. A patrol set out to clear the area directly south; the bridge across the Merderet to the west of the town was secured, and contact was established with the 2d Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, to the north. Late in the afternoon part of the 3d Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, had moved up from Grainville to mop up any enemy bypassed by the glider battalion and to patrol the river line to the south.
By noon, 12 June, the line running from the Merderet through le Ham and the station to the outskirts of Montebourg was secured. The 505th Parachute Infantry and the 8th Infantry were still in contact with the enemy all along their front and the outposts were receiving fire, but the only cause for concern was the gap between the two regiments. This area was cleared on 12 June by a patrol. It was intended that the 4th Division would relieve the airborne units of responsibility in the le Ham sector as soon as the coastal area was cleared to Quinéville. But the 4th Division had not taken Quinéville by 12 June. A battalion
of the 359th Infantry (90th Division) therefore took over the le Ham sector on the morning of 13 June, relieving the 505th Parachute Infantry for a new mission to the south.
The enemy's first organized line of resistance had been broken at Ecausseville and the enemy forced to retreat to the backstop line along the railway north of the le Ham-Montebourg highway. East of the Ste. Mère-Eglise-Montebourg highway the Ecausseville line extended across the high ground at Emondeville to the heavy fortifications at Azeville and Crisbecq (Map VIII). In this sector the enemy offered equally stubborn resistance and it became the task of the 12th and 22d Infantry Regiments to dislodge him and drive him beyond the Montebourg-Quinéville ridge.
The Advance Toward Montebourg
On the night of 7 June, the 12th Infantry was ordered to seize the high ground northeast of Montebourg. At that time the regiment was in contact with enemy outposts along the line le Bisson-Azeville, nearly four miles to the south. At 0530 the next morning a naval concentration was placed on Emondeville and an hour later the 1st and 3d Battalions attacked. About 700 yards south of Emondeville the regiment encountered the German forward line. The 3d Battalion on the left broke through the enemy's forward line but was stopped in the orchards south of Emondeville. Company L freed itself and fought into the center of the town and then moved on to a hedgerow 600 yards beyond, but Company K was pinned down for five and a half hours by artillery and rocket fire. Company L was thus left out in a precarious salient. Colonel Reeder decided to commit his reserve, the 2d Battalion, on the left flank to relieve the isolated elements. After a violent fight the 2d Battalion drove into Basse Emondeville and established a line about 300 yards north of the village. Company L was moved back to tie in with this line.
On the right, the 1st Battalion found progress even more difficult. Shortly after the start of the attack it was pinned down by artillery west of Azeville. At 1400 it was counterattacked by part of Sturm Battalion AOK 7. Only the opportune presence of Company B of the 359th Infantry, the division reserve regiment, which was hastily attached to the 12th Infantry, enabled the 1st Battalion to stop the attack.
Meanwhile Company I was completing a withdrawal from the left flank, which had been exposed to attack from across the highway by the 8th Infantry's swing northwestward toward Fresville and Grainville. The enemy was steadily building up pressure along the highway and in mid- afternoon threatened the regimental command post south of Emondeville, but Company I and headquarters men rallied to repel the attack.
The 12th Infantry suffered nearly three hundred casualties on 8 June, but that night the enemy withdrew to Joganville, and the 12th stabilized its lines through Emondeville and Basse Emondeville.
On 9 June the regiment took the enemy strong point at the Chateau de Dodinville near Joganville. The chateau, a large walled-in stone building, was stubbornly defended. Six Sherman tanks from Company B, 746th Tank Battalion, outflanked the chateau on the west, while the 1st and 2d Battalions, at the cost of heavy casualties, fought into it from the south. Both battalions then continued northward and reached positions 2,000 yards northwest of Joganville. The 3d Battalion made a spectacular advance and reached positions 1,500 yards northeast of Montebourg, on the edge of the regimental objective and far in advance of units on either flank.
On 10 June the 2d Battalion skirted the eastern edge of Montebourg, which was strongly
defended by antitank and machine guns. After an unsuccessful attempt to penetrate the city's thick stone walls, the battalion crossed behind the 1st and 3d Battalions to take up a position on the extreme right of the regiment. Division ordered the regiment to contain Montebourg but to stay out of it. The farthest advance northward was made by the 1st Battalion, which crossed the Montebourg-Quinéville highway, overextending its position. Late in the evening the enemy counterattacked from Montebourg and from the north. Although repulsed, mainly by massed artillery fire, the Germans had shown considerable force, and the 1st Battalion was pulled back for safety. The three battalions then held positions abreast and south of the highway. The next morning ( 11 June) the regiment reached its objective north of the highway, but it had lost contact with the units on both flanks. The enemy still held strongly fortified positions at Montebourg on the left and to the right rear. At 2300 Division ordered the regiment to withdraw behind the Montebourg-St. Floxel road and prepare defensive positions, although no part of the division had yet reached its objective.
Progress had been especially difficult in the 22d Infantry sector. There, along the beach and at the headland fortifications, the enemy offered stubborn resistance. After the costly failure of the attacks on Crisbecq and Azeville on 7 June, the regimental commander, Col. Hervey A. Tribolet, waited for the 3d Battalion (minus Company K) to assemble west of the inundated area near Ravenoville as a reserve force, before he renewed the push northward. During the night, however, the 3d Battalion moved across the inundation to accept the surrender of Taret de Ravenoville. Company K, reinforced by 4.2-inch mortars, antitank guns, heavy machine guns, and part of a NSFCP, continued to attack the beach fortifications farther to the south.
Crisbecq and Azeville
At 1000 on 8 June the 1st and 2d Battalions again attacked Azeville and Crisbecq (Map VIII). On the right the 1st Battalion drove the enemy out of St. Marcouf, which he had reoccupied during the night, and advanced on Crisbecq. As on 7 June, Companies A and B led the attack, with Company C organized for assault and prepared to pass through the center. At 1330 a 20-minute preparation of naval and field artillery and mortar fire began to pound Crisbecq; it gave way to a rolling barrage which the infantry followed at 200 yards. Company D provided overhead fire with heavy machine guns. The advance and the fires were effectively coordinated, permitting the battalion to reach the edge of the fortifications with few losses. Companies A and B took positions on the flanks while Company C advanced through the center and blew several emplacements with pole charges.
The battle then developed in the same way as it had on the previous day. The assault sections exhausted their explosives without destroying the main enemy fortifications and became engaged in close-in fighting with the Germans in the trenches. The whole battalion was shelled by Nebelwerfers and by the guns at Crisbecq and farther inland, and its left flank was again counterattacked. As the pressure mounted on the left, the battalion fell back under cover of smoke, as it had on the previous day, to the orchard north of Bas Village de Dodainville. On first check the battalion showed less than half strength, but during the night a large number of men, separated in the course of the fighting, found their way back to the line which the battalion had organized. At Azeville, the 2d Battalion had also repeated its experience of 7 June when it had been driven back by a counterattack.
On 9 June the Azeville mission was assigned to the 3d Battalion (less Company K), which had again moved inland from Taret de Ravenoville.
CLEARING ST. MARCOUF for the second time, men of the 22d Infantry are shown moving cautiously through the village on 8 June, when the drive on Crisbecq was resumed. St. Marcouf had been captured by the 1st Battalion the day before but had been reoccupied by the enemy after the failure of the first attack.
The plan to take Crisbecq was temporarily abandoned, although naval and artillery fire continued to neutralize its batteries. The fort at Azeville, roughly circular, encompassed the east edge of the village. It consisted of four large concrete blockhouses camouflaged as buildings, which were armed with 150-mm. guns and turreted machine guns, and interconnected by covered trenches. The southern approach was protected by small outlying pillboxes and mine fields, and the entire area was surrounded by varying widths of barbed wire entanglements. The roads in the vicinity were blocked.
The 3d Battalion assembled about 1,000 yards southeast of Azeville, and at 1100 it crossed to the draw southwest of the village. Company L moved farther west in a wide arc in order to enter the village from the west and capture any reserves the enemy might have to the rear of the fort. Company I organized into five assault sections, moved north inside the arc of Company L, and advanced up the draw and through the fields to approach the
HEADLAND BATTERIES AT AZEVILLE AND CRISBECQ consisted of huge reinforced concrete casemates and their guns and various smaller weapons and wire. The Azeville positions housed 105-mm. guns and, like the one above, were camouflaged to look like stone houses. The Crisbecq fort shown below housed a 210-mm. gun.
fort from its right rear. The 44th Field Artillery Battalion fired 1,500 rounds in preparation for the attack. The company started out with the support of tanks, but mines held up all except one of them. At noon Company I came in sight of the first outlying pillbox. The men did not attempt to lift the mines, but after cutting the wire they picked their way through the fields and orchards. They buttoned up pillboxes with rifle fire and then blew them. Enemy return fire was not heavy. The Germans had neglected to clear good fields of fire and to cover the approach from the southwest. Company I concentrated on the nearest blockhouse. First bazookas and the lone tank opened fire from behind a hedgerow, but accomplished little more than to chip the concrete. An assault team was then sent in to blow the rear entrance, which was recessed in the blockhouse and out of reach of direct fire. The team worked its way to its objective, emptied its flame thrower, and set off a pack charge. But this had no effect, nor did a second attempt, nor a third with a still heavier satchel charge. In a last effort Capt. Joseph T. Samuels, commanding Company I, sent Pvt. Ralph G. Riley to the blockhouse with the last flame thrower to "give it a few more squirts." With the flame thrower on his back, Private Riley ran seventy-five yards under fire and dropped into a shell hole for cover. The flame thrower would not work, and he tried to think of the proper "immediate action." He opened the valve, held a lighted match to the nozzle, and trained the stream of fire on the base of the door. At just this time enemy artillery fire from Crisbecq began to come in and Captain Samuels thought the attack had failed. Suddenly Private Riley heard a popping sound, different from the sound of the rifle fire around him. It was soon followed by explosions within the blockhouse. The enemy's ammunition had been fired by those "few more squirts" of the flame thrower. Soon a white flag was raised and, after the firing had ceased, the rear door of the blockhouse swung open to let out an American parachute officer followed by two Germans. The German commander surrendered all 4 forts with their garrison of 169 men.
Shortly after Azeville was captured in mid-afternoon, 9 June, General Barton issued an order creating a task force which that same day was to bypass Crisbecq and the other German strong points along the coastal headlands and swing northeast to "capture Quinéville and the high ground west thereof." Quinéville was the eastern anchor of the German defenses. The task force, which was to have first priority on division fires, consisted of the 22d Infantry, the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalions and the 746th Tank Battalion (less detachments); it was commanded by Brig. Gen. Henry A. Barber. Led by tanks, the 22d Infantry was to advance in a column of battalions (3d, 2d, 1st) on Ozeville, its first objective. Crisbecq was to be contained by a force of tank destroyers and infantry and was to be neutralized by division artillery at the time of the attack.1
The task force moved out at 1630, but it was stopped by fire from strong enemy positions at the crossroads west of Chateau de Fontenay and forced to dig in for the night. For three days (10-12 June) the task force struggled with little success to overcome the enemy resistance, its right flank exposed to the bypassed enemy strong points at Crisbecq, Dangueville, Chateau de Fontenay, and Fontenay-sur-Mer and its left flank to the German positions in the gap of about a mile and a half that separated the 22d and 12th Infantry Regiments. The task force lacked sufficient
strength to protect both of its flanks and at the same time push ahead. Unfavorable weather denied it air support.
On 10 June the 3d Battalion, supported by tanks, launched two frontal attacks on Ozeville which carried it up the rising ground to within a few hundred yards of the enemy entrenchments. But the battalion, consisting of only two companies, was too weak to gain the objective. Company K was still on the beach and Company L had lost 159 men since D Day. On the same day the 2d Battalion attacked on the right in an effort to reduce the strong point at Chateau de Fontenay, but it was pinned down by grazing machine-gun fire. Ordered to withdraw to allow bombing of the enemy positions, the battalion became disorganized by the enemy fire, and seventy men east of the chateau were left stranded.2 The air mission did not materialize.
On 11 June, General Barber planned to send the 1st and 3d Battalions into Ozeville from the west, after an air mission had softened the enemy positions. But he was forced to divert the 1st Battalion to the right to contain the enemy positions at Fontenay-sur-Mer and Dangueville. The 3d Battalion therefore attacked Ozeville alone, but again failed.
While the 2d and 3d Battalions suffered heavy losses in unsuccessful attacks on the chateau and the Ozeville strong point, the 1st Battalion contained the enemy at Fontenay-sur-Mer and another force contained the Crisbecq fortification. Twice on 10 June this latter force pulled back for scheduled air missions which were canceled because of unfavorable weather. The only real progress during these days was made on the beach by Company K, which on 11 June captured two more strong points. For two days it had hammered at these positions. At last it learned from prisoners that the only effect of heavy American fire on the forts had been to force the garrison to shuttle through a tunnel from one part to the other. Company K therefore fired fifty rounds of 57-mm. on the first fort and then switched suddenly to put eighty rounds into the adjacent stronghold. Resistance ended in both forts, and ninety-three prisoners were taken.
On 12 June, General Collins ordered the 39th Infantry, 9th Division, which had landed on the previous day, to take over the reduction of the enemy strong points on the beaches and the coastal headlands. General Collins had two reasons for this move. He was determined to reduce the beach and headland fortifications from Taret de Ravenoville to Quinéville, for they continued to shell Red Beach and threatened to slow down the unloading of supplies; and he wished to free the right flank of the 22d Infantry, in order that it might move on to Quinéville. With this in view, the 1st Battalion of the 22d Infantry was released from its task of containing Fontenay-sur-Mer and Dangueville and ordered to rejoin the regiment for the drive northward.
Early on 12 June the 39th Infantry fanned out from its assembly area on its coastal missions (Map IX). The 2d Battalion pushed patrols to Crisbecq and, finding it abandoned, occupied it at 0820. Dangueville was occupied in mid-afternoon. Two companies were then sent eastward toward the beach. The 1st Battalion moved to St. Marcouf at noon and then sent three companies down the roads from St. Marcouf and Ravenoville to the beach. There the battalion reorganized and assaulted and captured the first pillbox north of Taret de Ravenoville, establishing contact with the 2d Battalion patrol below Fort St. Marcouf. The 3d Battalion meanwhile attacked through the 1st Battalion, 22d Infantry, drove the enemy back from Fontenay-sur-Mer, where he resisted stubbornly, and established outposts along the roads to the north and east.
The 22d Infantry was now free to make a concerted attack on Ozeville. It was to jump of at noon of 12 June. The air force was to bomb Ozeville at 1100, and the artillery (44th and 20th Field Artillery Battalions) was to fire on known enemy positions south of Ozeville from 1115 to 1130, then lift to Ozeville until 1200, after which fire was to be available on call. In addition to the organic weapons of the 22d Infantry, the attack was to be supported by two platoons of 81-mm. mortars and the Cannon Company of the 12th Infantry. The 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, on the left flank was to place mortar and antitank fire on the strong point from 1115 until 1200; and the 1st Battalion on the right flank was to support the attack with its tanks and cannon. Colonel Teague's 3d Battalion in the center, which was to lead the attack, was to be supported by one company of chemical mortars (87th Chemical Mortar Battalion), a platoon of tanks (Company C, 70th Tank Battalion), and an extra platoon of antitank guns.
At 1005 General Barber notified Colonel Teague that the air mission was canceled, but that heavy artillery fire would be substituted. The preparatory fires were delivered and the attack jumped off on time. With the 2d Battalion covering the gap on the left flank and the 1st Battalion becoming heavily engaged in the vicinity of Fontenay-sur-Mer, the main assault was made by the 3d Battalion alone toward the southwest corner of the strong point.
The troops advanced behind overwhelming fire power. Even naval support was available, particularly on Quinéville where German guns had opened up. Covered by Companies I and L on either side, two assault sections of Company K closed in on the Ozeville defenses. After a short but violent fight a white flag appeared on one of the positions. But as Lieutenant Dewhurst, a platoon leader, climbed up on a pillbox to stop the firing, he was cut down by German fire. The men of Company I suddenly fought with greater fury; they rushed into the emplacements with bayonets and grenades and wiped out a large part of the garrison.
Ozeville was captured and the last major barrier to an attack on Quinéville was removed. On the same day, 12 June, the 39th Infantry cleared resistance from the 22d Infantry's right flank, while on its left flank the 12th Infantry retook the ground east of Montebourg which had been relinquished the day before.
The 12th Infantry's attack was launched at 1600, when the capture of Ozeville became assured. After an artillery preparation the 2d Battalion moved against its objective, the strong point built around two stone quarries near les Fieffes-Dancel (Map IX) . While tanks gave close fire support, Company E assaulted the position with rifles and hand grenades. An enemy counterattack from the northwest, threatening to check the assault, was thrown back, mainly by Company B which had been sent up from the 1st Battalion in reserve to reinforce the 2d Battalion. The 2d Battalion then completed the capture of the stone quarry position. The 3d Battalion on the left had, in the meantime, captured the height 1,000 yards to the west, and Company A had established an outpost northeast of Montebourg. The 12th Infantry was again extended in an exposed position.
So far no attempt had been made to seize the city of Montebourg. When the two regiments approached the city on 10 June, General Barton ordered them to stay out of it; his division was spread out over a wide front with few reserves and, expecting a counterattack, he wished to avoid street fighting. On 11 June the 4th Engineer Combat Battalion established road blocks on the highway south of Montebourg and covered the gap between the 8th and 12th Infantry Regiments. But on 12 June patrols reported that the town was only lightly held. At the same time the 4th Division's burden had been lightened by the
attachment of the 39th Infantry, and by the arrival of the rest of the 9th Division as Corps reserve. General Barton therefore notified Colonel Van Fleet that Montebourg was included in the 8th Infantry's zone and should be seized and occupied that day if it could be done cheaply.
Colonel Van Fleet organized a battalion-size task force to attack Montebourg and placed it under the command of Lt. Col. Fred Steiner, his executive officer. The task force, composed of two rifle companies, a platoon each of engineers, heavy machine guns, anti-tank guns, 4.2-inch mortars and tank destroyers, a cannon company, and the 29th Field Artillery Battalion in direct support, moved out at 2100 and reached the edge of the town at dark. Although the German force inside the town was not believed to be large, approaches were well covered by automatic fire. One company, on the left, was forced to withdraw and reorganize, and Colonel Steiner decided to wait until morning to renew the attack. At 0700 on 13 June the task force moved out again, one company on either side of the highway. Upon reaching the stream on the very edge of the town, the tank destroyers decided not to venture farther because of the 88-mm. fire. General Barton then resolved against risking the loss of men in street fighting and ordered the force to take a position from which it could contain Montebourg. Small patrols were sent into the town to observe enemy activity.
Enemy possession of Montebourg technically exposed the left flank of the 22d Infantry's attack toward Quinéville. But the danger was not too great and General Barton hoped to gain Quinéville and the ridge to the west on 13 June. However, neither the 39th Infantry nor the 22d Infantry was able to make sufficient progress. The 1st Battalion of the 39th attacked northward along the beach toward Fort St. Marcouf, aided by 2d Battalion mortars and four tank destroyers, but it made only small gains (Map IX). The 3d Battalion attacked east from Fontenay-sur-Mer to the edge of the swamp and then north, with the intention of clearing the balance of the regimental zone south of the Quinéville-Montebourg highway and along the north edge of the inundation. But it was held up by both friendly and enemy artillery fire falling on its forward elements.
The Capture of Quinéville
The 22d Infantry reached the ridge but was unable to secure it or attack eastward to Quinéville. The 2d Battalion made a wide swing through the 12th Infantry's area to the Montebourg-Quinéville highway east of les Fieffes-Dancel. The 3d Battalion moved north to the forward slope of the ridge and then was ordered to side-slip to the east in preparation for an attack in column down the ridge on Quinéville. Colonel Teague extended one company to the right, passed the second across its rear farther to the right, and then passed the third behind the other two. This maneuver, made across ground dominated by the enemy positions on the ridge and harassed by heavy Nebelwerfer and artillery fire, resulted in a number of casualties.
In ordering the attack of 14 June, Regiment directed all three battalions of the 22d Infantry to secure the ridge and the two hills to the east as necessary preliminaries to the attack on Quinéville. The 2d Battalion, with one company of 4.2-inch mortars attached (Company C, 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion), was to seize the crest of the ridge, on the left flank. The 1st Battalion, with the 70th Tank Battalion in direct support, was to seize the eastern nose of the ridge, which was fortified, and Hill 54A to the east. The 3d Battalion, aided by a company of chemical mortars (Company A, 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion), was to capture Hill 54B, the easternmost hill, and was then to turn right and attack
Quinéville. Preparatory fires were to be delivered for fifteen minutes on the fortified nose of the ridge, the two heights to the east, and a coastal battery farther east. South of the highway the 3d Battalion of the 39th Infantry was also to attack and come into position for a later coordinated attack on Quinéville with the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry. The battalion was to be pinched out just south of the town.
At 0915 on 14 June the 4th Division artillery began to fire concentrations on the four ridge targets. At 0930 a round of green smoke signaled the lifting of fires and the three battalions of the 22d Infantry jumped of. The fight lasted for over three hours. By 1300 the nose of the ridge and the two hills were occupied. Meanwhile the 3d Battalion, 39th Infantry, had also taken up the attack on the southern slopes of the ridge south of the highway, completing a 90-degree turn to the east just south of Hill 4B and advancing on Quinéville with Company K in the lead. The attack on the town could now proceed as planned.
Before this plan was put into effect, however, the 39th Infantry received permission from Division to send its 3d Battalion independently against Quinéville without the assistance of the 22d Infantry. At 1400 thirty-six A-2 0 's carried out a bombardment of enemy positions at Quinéville and it was desirable that this bombardment be followed as soon as possible by an infantry attack. At 1600 the 3d Battalion, 39th Infantry, moved out with Company K in the lead. Initially the company encountered little opposition and took sixty-eight prisoners. On the slopes just southwest of Quinéville leading elements of the company successfully attacked a casemated 88-mm. gun and took the crew prisoner. At this time tanks of the 70th Tank Battalion, operating with the 39th Infantry, opened fire at long range on what appeared to be enemy vehicles on the right flank, and drew antitank fire. This movement on the right proved to be that of tank destroyers attached to the regiment's 1st Battalion, which was fighting its way up the beach in the vicinity of St. Marcouf. The firing ceased after identification was established by flare and radio.
As Company K entered Quinéville it received heavy mortar fire, but it went on to the first street intersection. There the 3d Platoon, which had been leading the attack, turned right and advanced toward the beach. In its path lay a tank ditch, extending to the mouth of the Sinope River on the north and to the swamps on the south. As the platoon proceeded down the street a small antitank gun opened fire from a pillbox on the beach, forcing lead elements of the platoon back and driving the rest to cover in ditches and buildings.
Meanwhile the 1st Platoon had pushed into the northeast part of town with the intention of cutting through to the beach. The Weapons Platoon emplaced its 60-mm. mortars south of town and rushed up light machine guns and one section of heavy machine guns from Company M through heavy enemy fire to join the 1st Platoon. The platoon and attached guns entered the northeast section and the machine guns were set up on the edge of town, looking out onto the beach and the river mouth where the enemy had fixed positions. But the men found themselves dangerously exposed and were forced to take cover after receiving numerous casualties when they attempted to advance in the open toward the beach fortifications. The 2d Platoon succeeded in clearing the western part of town with little opposition, for the enemy's strength was concentrated on the east for the protection of the beach fortifications.
Aside from this minor success in the western part of town the attack at this point did not offer much hope of succeeding. Company I had suffered heavy casualties, including the 1st and 3d Platoon officers. The remainder of the battalion had been of little assistance. Company M's heavy mortars had been emplaced
Map No. 21: The Normandy Beachhead, 14 June 1944
earlier to cover only the original mission of the battalion and were now out of accurate range of Quinéville; they were at this point moving forward over difficult terrain and mined trails, and communications with them were out. Companies I and L had halted under the last remaining cover about 400 yards southwest of town, alerted to take up the attack on either flank of Company K, but there was little room for their deployment except in the open and across wire entanglements flanking the town.
Before resuming the attack the 3d Battalion commander, Lt. Col. William P. Stumpf, requested artillery fire on enemy fortifications. Its purpose was to cover the reorganization of Company K and the approach of tanks of the 70th Tank Battalion which were waiting outside the town, and to soften the enemy fortifications. Following this fire Company K was to assault the enemy positions under the cover of smoke, supported by the tanks. Radio communication was difficult, but the requested fire was adjusted by relay through the 39th Infantry Cannon Company and was delivered by division artillery. The fire was not effective against the concrete fortifications, but did result in a temporary cessation of enemy mortar fire. Smoke was not available at this time. One tank reached the intersection, turned east, and immediately drew fire from the antitank gun on the beach and was damaged. The tank returned the fire, but faced with the antitank ditch and heavy mortar fire, it withdrew. Two other tanks then moved up to the intersection to support the infantry, but also retired due to the heavy mortar fire.
Colonel Stumpf, observing the very limited support which the tanks were able to give and losing hope of getting the requested smoke, decided to resume the attack with the forces at hand. Company L was ordered to lead the assault on Company K's left. Company L had just moved out on the approach and was drawing mortar fire when a heavy concentration of smoke fell squarely on the enemy positions. Taking advantage of the long- awaited smoke, delivered by 4th Division artillery, Company K attacked immediately. As leading elements of the 1st and 3d Platoons reached the fortifications under the cover of the smoke, all enemy positions were suddenly surrendered, ending the fight for Quinéville at 2130. Company K had lost twenty-eight wounded and five killed.
In the meantime the 1st Battalion of the 39th Infantry had continued its attack northward along the beach. During the day it suffered heavy casualties in crossing a mine field, but succeeded in taking Fort St. Marcouf. That night it made contact with patrols from the 3d Battalion. Thus, by the capture of Quinéville and the ridge on 14 June, the enemy's main line in the north was ,broken, depriving him of his best natural defense against the advancing northern flank.
The capture of Quinéville and the clearing of the coast to the south also helped to speed the landing of supplies and personnel for VII Corps. In the early days of the landings German artillery had prevented the use of the Navy pontoon causeway built on D plus 1, and difficulties in beaching landing craft and in the functioning of the ferry control organization had resulted in a lag in unloading of about thirty-six hours. Now the causeway became usable. Moreover, on D plus 3 the practice of drying out LST's by beaching on a falling tide was begun and on D plus s additional DUKW's were made available. On D plus 6 a joint Army-Navy meeting devised means of expediting the unloading; the original plan of establishing a beach at Quinéville was abandoned and a third beach, Sugar Red, was established above Tare Green. This new beach, together with the increased capacity of the assault beaches, made the Quinéville beach unnecessary. By 14 June an average of over 4,000 tons of stores was being unloaded daily, compared with an average of 1,500 tons during
QUINÉVILLE, looking northwest along the coast. The capture of this town by the 3d Battalion, 39th Infantry, driving in from the southwest, climaxed the struggle for the D-Day objectives in the north.
the first three days. By the evening of 14 June a total of nearly 86,000 personnel, 12,000 vehicles, and 26,000 tons of stores had crossed UTAH Beach.
With the increase of the VII Corps' striking power, the security of its position also increased. By 14 June, the D-Day objectives had been gained. The threat to the Corps' southern flank had been removed with the capture of Carentan, and firm contact had been established with V Corps (see Map No. 21, which shows the extent of the Allied beachhead in Normandy on 14 June). In the west, VII Corps troops were operating well to the west of the Merderet.3 The seizure of the Quinéville Ridge broke the anchor of the enemy line in the north and increased his apprehension of a breakthrough toward Cherbourg.
With the capture of the Quinéville Ridge and the linking of the two beachheads the crucial first week of the campaign had passed. The enemy had failed to launch the expected counterattack.
The Enemy Situation
MOVEMENT OF SUPPLIES, EQUIPMENT, AND PERSONNEL increased in volume as the beach was organized by the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. Pictured above is the entire beach, looking south, with its protective GOOSEBERRY (breakwater) of sunken ships. Below, beached LST's unload directly into trucks.
SHIP-TO-SHORE MOVEMENT OF SUPPLIES was accomplished largely by DUKW's of the amphibious truck companies operating under the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. At the left is a pontoon causeway used for offshore unloading of small craft.
Allied air superiority, the enemy's supply shortages, especially in fuels, and his early uncertainty about Allied plans had delayed reinforcements. Spitfires, P-47's, and P-38's forced units to detrain even before they reached the German Seventh Army zone. On 10th June the 77th Division was still in the Avranches area and, because of a lack of fuel, the 17th Panzer Grenadier Division, intended for the Carentan area, could not come up in time to prevent the linking of the V and VII Corps beachheads. The advance elements of the 77th Division began arriving in the Valognes area only on 10 and 11 June and did not face American forces in large numbers until 12 and 13 June when the reduction of the Montebourg-Quinéville line was nearing completion. The 17th SS-Panzer Grenadier Division finally reached its assembly area on 12 June, but some of its assault guns had been destroyed by Allied fighter-bombers, and the weakness of its communications, supply, and command organization forced it to postpone its counterattack in the Carentan sector. When it did attack, on 13 June, the 101st Airborne Division and elements of the 2d Armored Division were strong enough to drive it back.
The enemy had initially considered the Calvados beachheads as the main Allied effort in Normandy. On D plus 2, when he picked up from the waters of the English Channel a copy of the VII Corps field order for Operation NEPTUNE, he realized that a second "main effort" was being made in the directions of Valognes-Cherbourg, and he took measures to prevent the cutting off of the peninsula so that his units in the north could be reinforced. He decided to strengthen the Cotentin forces with the 77th Division, which had been originally intended to join the II Parachute Corps in preventing a junction of the two U.S. corps in the Carentan area. Furthermore, in view of the possibility of airborne landings at Valognes and amphibious landings on the northwest coast of the Cotentin, the German commander also alerted the 17th SS-Panzer Grenadier Division near Carentan for a possible shift westward to plug the St. Lô-d'Ourville gap.
German Seventh Army believed that, while it did not have adequate forces for a counterattack, it could hold its own in the Cotentin and defend Cherbourg. But on 9 and 10 June, when the 4th Division penetrated the defensive front south of Montebourg and forced the 709th Division to give way at Ecausseville, the enemy became alarmed. Lt. Gen. Heinz Hellmich, commanding the 243d Division and elements of the 709th and 91st Divisions, was ordered to hold the Montebourg-Quinéville line at all costs. General Erich Marcks of the LXXXIV Corps urgently requested air power to combat the effective naval fire which assisted the 4th Division advance in the Emondeville and coastal sectors. He believed that the decisive phase of the battle for Cherbourg was fast approaching and that a breakthrough might be attempted within a day or two. With the fall of Quinéville and the Quinéville Ridge on 14 June an Allied offensive toward Cherbourg appeared imminent. However, the northern front remained relatively quiet for nearly a week, while VII Corps concentrated on taking advantage of its Merderet bridgehead to cut the Cotentin Peninsula.
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1. The containing force, commanded by Maj. Huston M. Betty, consisted of Company C, 22d Infantry; Company C, 4th Engineer Combat Battalion; Company C, 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
2. Only one of these men returned--an aid man who was later found among the prisoners at Cherbourg.
3. See the following chapter.