While the 101st Airborne Division captured Carentan and the 4th Division reached the objectives along the Quinéville-Montebourg ridge, the 82d Airborne Division continued to expand the beachhead westward toward its D-Day objectives. On D Day and D plus 1 the 82d had consolidated its positions at Ste. Mère-Eglise and at the Chef-du-Pont and la Fière bridges. On 8 and 9 June it fought across the Merderet and established a bridgehead prior to its relief by the 90th Division the following day.
Securing the Douve Line
The la Fière position on the east bank, which had been threatened at various times on D plus 1, again appeared well in hand on the morning of 8 June. Held by the forces of Colonel Maloney and Colonel Lindquist, and backed by the newly arrived 1st Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry, it was well supplied with ammunition and supported by tanks and artillery. Nevertheless, no attempt was made that day to cross at la Fière. Instead Colonel Lindquist's force was shifted to Chef-du-Pont on orders to organize the bridgehead there and establish contact with Colonel Shanley's men isolated on Hill 30 (Map No. 22). It was also to secure the left flank of the division east of the Merderet. The latter mission was given to two companies which, without loss to themselves, cleared the Carquebut-Eturville area, taking 135 prisoners and establishing contact with the 101st Airborne Division to the south.
Crossing the Merderet
Colonel Lindquist did not succeed, however, in his principal mission of joining Colonel Shanley's force. From Hill 30 Colonel Shanley could overlook the Merderet and the causeway running west from the Chef-du- Pont bridge, but his only contact with the forces east of the river was by patrol. For purposes of supply and medical aid he was cut off by enemy dominance of the western end of the causeway. On D plus 1, when Colonel Shanley's force had been augmented by stray parachutists with machine guns, a road block had been organized south of Hill 30. The block, manned by about fifty men, covered the northern and western approaches to the causeway, both of which had been mined with German mines found in the area. But on the morning of 8 June, while the roadblock positions were being reorganized, the enemy attacked from the west. Unprepared at the time to defend the position, and threatened with heavy losses from enemy mortar fire, the Americans were withdrawn. Colonel Shanley decided that the immediate tactical value of the position did not warrant large sacrifices and that he was strong enough to retake the ground when necessary.
Map No. 22: 508th at Chef-du-Pont, 8-9 June 1944
That evening Colonel Lindquist radioed that he planned to send a convoy across the causeway and asked Colonel Shanley to clear the causeway road. Colonel Shanley complied by sending out a 23-man patrol, let by Lt. Woodrow W. Millsaps, to knock out the German-held road block and to clear the causeway to the east bank of the river. By bold action the patrol succeeded in killing or driving off all the Germans at the western end of the causeway and then crossed the river to report to Colonel Lindquist. Unfortunately, Colonel Lindquist had already taken steps which nullified the patrol's effort. Having observed that the causeway was receiving fire from south of the Douve, he had informed Colonel Shanley that it would be too hazardous to send the convoy across. When the patrol's arrival on the east bank demonstrated the feasibility of the crossing, it was too late, for Colonel Shanley had already withdrawn the covering force and did not wish to risk another engagement west of the bridge. The most urgent need of the men on Hill 30, plasma, was obtained later by a patrol which crossed the swamp. On 9 June Colonel Shanley's forces continued to receive pressure. Not until 10 June were they relieved by a battalion of the 90th Division.
On 9 June the main divisional effort was shifted back to la Fière where another attempt
was made to cross the Merderet and reach the isolated forces of Colonel Timmes, east of Amfreville, and of Colonel Millett, northwest of that town (Map No. 23). For this effort it was planned to send the 1st Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry (Maj. Teddy H. Sanford), north along the railway to cross the river above la Fière and then attack south to take the west end of the causeway, establishing a bridgehead and joining the forces of Colonel Timmes and Colonel Millett. Colonel Millet at the same time was ordered to join Colonel Timmes east of Amfreville.
This plan was developed late on 8 June after a 2-man patrol from Colonel Timmes' force made contact with Division. Moving east, the patrol had discovered a road across the swamp which, though just covered with water, could be seen and followed. The two men had picked their way across without incident and were then rowed down the river by a Frenchman to a point where they met men of the 325th Glider Infantry. They stayed at Division to guide the early morning attack back over the hidden swamp road.
After dark on 8 June the 1st Battalion of the 325th Glider Infantry and Colonel Millett's force began simultaneously the planned convergence on Colonel Timmes' Amfreville position. Colonel Millett's men, however, were unable to make the junction. The column, fired on in the dark, fell apart. Colonel Willett and several others were separated from the main body and captured. Enemy fire from the group of buildings, which came to be called the "Grey Castle," forced the rest of the column to withdraw northeast toward the river.1
The 1st Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry, attacking west, had better initial success. The battalion moved north along the railroad from la Fière. It crossed the river on the railway bridge and, guided by one of the men from Timmes' patrol, proceeded westward across the marshes. As the battalion reached dry land and approached Timmes' positions, it also drew fire from the "Grey Castle" a few hundred yards to its right. One company swung off to clear the buildings, while the rest of the battalion went on to join Timmes' force. This accomplished, the battalion swung southeast to seize the west end of the causeway, but it ran into strong German defenses and was thrown back with heavy losses to Timmes' lines.
When Colonel Lewis, commanding the 325th Glider Infantry, reported the failure of the 1st Battalion's attack, General Gavin decided to force the crossing at la Fière from the east. The 3d Battalion of the 325th Glider Infantry was to spearhead the attack, supported with fire by Captain Rae's reinforced company of the 507th Parachute Infantry from positions along the river south of the bridge. Should the glider infantry be unable to force the crossing, Rae's force was to move immediately in support of the attack. The artillery was to begin firing at 1030, and the attacking battalion, which was at Chef-du-Pont, was to move to la Fière under covering smoke and be ready to start out across the causeway at 1045.
During the artillery preparation the tanks moved up to within 100 to 150 yards of the bridge and fired over a hedge at targets of opportunity, while Captain Rae's force opened fire from the bank south of the bridge. The smoke laid down to screen the infantry approach, however, was not concentrated enough and, as the leading elements neared the bridge, they were stopped by machine-gun fire from across the river. Only by swinging to the left and following the stone wall, behind which Rae's men were firing, could the troops approach the bridge. At 1045 a round of smoke signaled the lifting of the artillery fire and the attack jumped off.
Map No. 23: The La Fière Bridgehead, 9 June 1944
The men had been told that they were to cover the exposed 500-yard-long causeway in one sprint. But the long run in the face of enemy small-arms and mortar fire proved to be too much for most of the men. Only a handful of Company G led by Capt. John B. Sauls made the initial dash, gained the west end of the causeway, and started deploying along the trail to the south.2 Some of the others, who hesitated, were hit on the exposed causeway. The first casualties induced more hesitation and the causeway became more and more congested with the dead, the wounded, and the reluctant. To make matters worse, an American tank, trying to cross after the leading infantry, hit an uncleared American mine field. Its crippled bulk, added to a destroyed enemy tank, constricted the causeway bottleneck still further and slowed the buildup on the west bank. Yet the crossing proceeded, though at increasingly heavy cost. When another platoon of Company G reached the west bank, the company built a right flank anchor along the road, while some of the men worked south along the edge of the swamp, clearing the enemy from buildings and fields.
Company E followed Company G across under orders to deploy to the right of the main road and clear out the ground northward along the river and around the Canquigny church. Despite the fact that its numbers were seriously depleted in the crossing, Company E carried out its mission with comparative ease. The Germans, caught around Canquigny by the supporting fire of the 507th Parachute Infantry from the far bank, were eager enough to surrender. Company E then swept the buildings on the north of the road and reached its objective line.
Company F had the mission of following Companies G and E to mop up. However, when it crossed the causeway, the bridgehead had not been deepened to the extent where mop-up operations were required. On the initiative of its commander the company therefore struck out west along the main road to push out the center of the bridgehead.
By now General Gavin had become concerned over the congestion of the causeway and the slow movement of troops across it. In the absence of reports from the west bank, he concluded that the 325th Glider Infantry was faltering in its attack, and ordered the immediate commitment of Captain Rae's company of the 507th Parachute Infantry. Captain Rae was told to sweep the stragglers from the other companies across with him. His men moved out at about the same time as Company F and the two groups became intermingled in the crossing. Once across, Captain Rae also headed west to drive through the center of the bridgehead toward the high ground around le Motey.
Part of Captain Rae's company actually went on into le Motey, but another part, on the advice of Captain Harney (Company F), broke off to the left and sought contact with Company G. Captain Harney also directed a platoon of Company E to strike north and contact the 1st Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry. Company F remained along the main road. However, before any of the missions could get started, the troops in le Motey were hit by American artillery fire which, without their knowledge, had been ordered to interdict the le Motey area as the most likely assembly point for a German counterattack against the bridgehead. Both forces pulled back and tried to communicate by tank radio and runner with the artillery to call of the fire, which was barring their way to the high ground.
When these efforts proved unavailing, Captain Rae was ordered to withdraw his company to reserve in Canquigny. From there he sent a patrol northwest to contact the 1st Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry, and Colonel Timmes' battalion. The patrol reported that
THE LA FIÈRE BRIDGE AND CAUSEWAY, site of a 4-day struggle by the 82d Airborne Division to win a bridgehead across the Merderet. At the end of the causeway is the hamlet of Canquigny, beyond it is le Motey, and in the upper right, Amfreville.
the enemy had eased its pressure in the north and that Colonel Timmes was free to move as he wished. The north flank of the bridgehead ceased to be a tactical concern.
Meanwhile, however, Captain Rae's withdrawal from le Motey had left a wide gap between Company F and Company G to the south. At the same time the platoon of Company E on the right pulled back to rejoin its company just west of the marsh. Company F was thus left exposed on both flanks while enemy small-arms fire from le Motey built up against it. Still more threatening were groups of enemy infantry discovered by a patrol among the hedgerows on the left. To counter this danger, Company E was ordered to come up and protect Company F's left flank. This move, however, was delayed by the scattering of Company E personnel, and before it could be carried out Company F, finding its position untenable, had moved back a few hedgerows. As Company E finally pushed up, it found itself as exposed as Company F had been earlier. Discovering its isolation, and subjected to enemy flanking fire, it pulled out in a confused maneuver which sent one platoon hurtling back to the causeway under the impression that it was being counterattacked. The panic was checked in time, however, and Company E was put back in line. Late in the afternoon defensive positions were established with Company F on the right, Company E in the center, and Company G, which meanwhile had been extending northward, on the left. The line thus formed held against a German last-effort counterattack in the evening.
The la Fière bridgehead was now reasonably secure, but the higher command, lacking information, was still worried. Regiment ordered Captain Rae back into the line, and he placed his unit in position to the right of Company F, where a tie-in was eventually effected with the 1st Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry, in the north. Meanwhile the bridgehead was also extended southward to tie in with Colonel Shanley's group around Hill 30. Late in the afternoon a group from the 508th Parachute Infantry crossed the causeway, mopped up the area southward from Gueutteville, and took up positions on the right of the mixed group which had held isolated positions on Hill 30 since D Day. The whole defense of the bridgehead was thus tied up for the night, from Colonel Timmes' group on the north to Colonel Shanley's group in the south, bringing all units west of the Merderet within the perimeter of the bridgeheads. Outposts were set up without opposition in le Motey just before dark. By nightfall the bridgehead appeared ready for exploitation by the 90th Division next day.
The original VII Corps plan provided that the 90th Division be committed on the 4th Division's right for the advance up the peninsula. In accordance with this plan the 325th Infantry, which landed on D Day and D plus 1, was initially attached to the 4th Division for use on its right along the coast. However, modifications in the original plan had been made as a result of the 82d Division's early difficulties along the Merderet and the 4th Division's involvement across the entire northern sector, making it impracticable to disengage any part of the division. When on 9 June General Bradley directed that the peninsula be cut before proceeding against Cherbourg, General Collins decided to commit the 90th Division through the Merderet bridgehead in
The 90th Takes Over the Attack
BRIG. GEN. JAY W. MACKELVIE, Commanding General, 90th Division.
an attempt to break through west of the river. Verbal orders to this effect were issued to Brig. Gen. Jay W. MacKelvie, commanding the 90th Division, on 9 June.
The 90th Division's new mission was to cross the Merderet at both la Fière and Chef-du-Pont and attack west (Map No. 24). Its initial objective was to secure the line of the Douve between the bend in the river at Terre de Beauval and St. Sauveur-le Vicomte and then prepare to advance northward on Cherbourg in conjunction with the 4th Division. The 82d Airborne Division was to hold the line of the Merderet until the 90th Division had secured a foothold of approximately 2,000 yards west of the river, and to take over the security of the southern flank of the Corps along the north bank of the Douve.
Initially General MacKelvie had only two regiments available for the assignments west of the Merderet. in as much as the 359th Infantry was still attached to the 4th Division. Plans were made for the 357th and 358th Infantry Regiments to cross the river early on 10 June. The 357th was to attack in the direction of Amfreville, Orglandes, and Ste. Colombe, while the 358th was to cross the Chef-du-Pont causeway and, guiding on the highway, attack toward Picauville, Pont l'Abbé, and St. Sauveur-le Vicomte. The German defensive positions ran from Pont l'Abbé to Gourbesville and Orglandes in the north.
The 357th Infantry started across the la Fière causeway at approximately 0400 on 10 June. The bridge was under artillery fire which inflicted a few casualties and delayed the crossing briefly. But the units collected themselves in short order, went over the causeway, and passed through the 325th Glider Infantry at 0545. The 325th had been authorized to withdraw at daylight, but the whole situation relative to the 357th Infantry's attack was so obscure that Lt. Col. H. G. Sitler, executive officer of the glider regiment, secured General Ridgway's permission to remain in position awaiting the outcome of the attack. This proved to be a fortunate step, because the Germans were exerting pressure on the la Fière positions at the very time that the 90th Division began passing through. It soon became obvious that the bridgehead was not as firm as was believed. The 357th Infantry's attack was stopped on the high ground just beyond le Motey where the Germans (elements of the 1057th Grenadier Regiment, 91st Division) were strongly entrenched. The 357th Infantry was meeting enemy fire for the first time. The 2d Battalion recoiled, many of its men falling back to the ground still held by the 1st Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry. Some of these men were put on the right flank of that battalion and remained there the rest of the day. In the afternoon the 1st Battalion, 357th Infantry, relieved the 2d Battalion and at 2130 launched another attack toward Amfreville. It, too, proved unsuccessful.
Map No. 24: 90th Division West of Merderet, 10-13 June 1944
On that day the regiment suffered 99 casualties, including 15 killed and 84 wounded.
The 358th Infantry met with somewhat better success at the southern bridgehead, although it also fell short of reaching its intermediate objective, Pont l'Abbé. The bridgehead at Chef-du-Pont was even less clearly defined than the one at la Fière. Colonel Shanley's force was in possession of Hill 30, north of the causeway, but the situation to the west was vague. The movement across the causeway was led by the 1st Battalion, 358th Infantry, and was completed by 0530. The 3d Battalion followed. The enemy opposed the crossing only with scattered rifle fire from the chateau in the woods south of the causeway; the fire did not hold up the leading battalion. As the 3d Battalion came across the causeway, Company I was detached to clean out the chateau. The 1st Battalion went on to occupy Picauville and then pushed west toward Pont l'Abbé. About 500 yards west of Picauville the battalion received its first heavy concentration of fire. The companies deployed abreast and, under regimental order, dug in.
Col. James V. Thompson, regimental commander, had become apprehensive about the situation to the rear. Company I had not completed the clearing of the chateau. Furthermore, the infantry-engineer detachment sent to blow the bridge over the Douve at Beuzeville-la Bastille had failed to accomplish its mission because of fire from across the river. Colonel Thompson therefore instructed the 1st Battalion to assume the defensive.
In mid-afternoon the Germans counterattacked, but the 1st Battalion held. Company L was brought up on the right and at 1700 the four companies jumped off toward Pont l'Abbé after an artillery preparation by the 344th Field Artillery Battalion. The attack stalled, however, and at 1930 the 1st and 3d Battalions began to dig in. The 1st Battalion alone suffered a total loss of 129 men, of whom 17
THE SOUTHERN CROSSING OF THE MERDERET was effected on 10 June by the 358th Infantry via the causeway southwest of Chef-du-Pont, shown in this photo. Principal opposition to the crossing came from the chateau at the confluence of the Merderet with the Douve. (Photo taken October 1945.)
were killed, 93 wounded, and 19 missing. Most of the losses were from mortar and 88-mm. fire.
Both the 358th and 357th Infantry Regiments attacked again on 11 June. The 3d Battalion, 357th Infantry, advanced 800 yards and cleared Amfreville in the morning. Later in the day, the 1st Battalion attempted a wide flanking movement to rout the enemy from his entrenchments around les Landes, but the approach of darkness found the regiment still short of its intermediate objective.
The main effort on 11 June was made by the 358th Infantry against Pont l'Abbé, where the Germans offered stubborn resistance. This was to be expected because Pont l'Abbé occupied a commanding position astride one of the few causeway-highways permitting access to the Cotentin from the south.
All three battalions were committed in the attack, supported by all four battalions of division artillery. The infantry jumped off at 1330, behind a rolling barrage which advanced about one hundred yards every five minutes. The three battalions advanced steadily behind this fire but were soon slowed down by machine-gun fire from the east edge of the town and from the north. By early evening the town was partially encircled, but the enemy still delayed its capture with well-directed machine-gun and artillery fire.
By 12 June the 359th Infantry had rejoined the 90th Division and two of its battalions were now committed in the center. This necessitated a change in boundaries for the other two regiments, but not in the direction of attack or regimental objectives. A gap had existed between the 357th and 358th Infantry Regiments from the beginning, and the 359th simply took over a narrow front of 1,000 yards in the center. It was instructed to drive straight toward Reigneville and the middle ground overlooking the Douve between Ste. Colombe and St. Sauveur-le Vicomte. Each regiment now had the support of approximately three platoons of tanks (from the 746th Tank Battalion) and the division had received a battalion-minus one battery-of 155-mm. guns (the 980th Field Artillery Battalion).
Despite this additional strength the 90th Division continued to measure its gains in hundreds of yards on 12 and 13 June. The 357th Infantry near Amfreville made two attacks on 12 June, the first recoiling after the loss of two tanks to 88-mm. fire, the second making slight gains on one flank but failing to gain any momentum. The 1st and 2d Battalions again attacked the following morning but advanced only a few hundred yards all day. Late in the day the 3d Battalion moved up on the right and crossed the Amfreville-Gourbesville road with the intention of hitting Gourbesville from the northeast. But the maneuver was not completed until dark and the attack was not fully developed. The regiment had average daily casualties of about 150 during these first days of hedgerow fighting.
The 359th Infantry's experience in the center was similar. Not until the evening of 13 June did the regiment reach its initial objective the black-top road between Gourbesville and Pont l'Abbé.
In the south the 358th Infantry was ordered on 12 June to contain Pont l'Abbé with one battalion and to bypass it on the right with the other two, attacking westward. As the 2d and 3d Battalions tried to advance past the town they were stopped at the line of departure by machine-gun, mortar, and rocket fire. Colonel Thompson and Lt. Col. Nave, commanding the 1st Battalion, were both wounded early in the morning. Lt. Col. Christian H. Clarke, Jr., commanding the 2d Battalion, took over the regiment. By this time the original order to contain and bypass Pont l'Abbé was changed, probably as the result of General Ridgway's objection. The latter feared that the enemy's possession of the town would imperil the 508th Parachute Infantry's river-
MAJ. GEN. EUGENE M. LANDRUM, who assumed command of the 90th Division on 13 June.
crossing operation at Beuzeville-la Bastille, and plans were made for the immediate capture of Pont l'Abbé. The 1st Battalion, counterattacked shortly before noon, was badly under strength, but the regiment reorganized and prepared for an assault on the town following an air bombardment. The air mission, carried out by one group of P-47's at approximately 1700, was very effective, but the infantry attack was delayed. Artillery was therefore laid on the town prior to the jump-off at 1925. The double bombardment made Pont l'Abbé a shambles. When the regiment entered the town, Colonel Clarke remarked that all he saw alive was two rabbits, and one of them wasn't very spry.
That night the three battalions went into a defensive position around Pont l'Abbé. Colonel Clarke decided to attack westward again early on the morning of 13 June, but some of his positions were bombed at 0700, and the attack was delayed several hours. When finally launched at noon, it netted no advance. The 359th and 357th Infantry Regiments, in the center and on the right flank of the 90th Division, also failed to make satisfactory progress. By the evening of 13 June the 90th Division had barely reached its intermediate objective.
In its first four days of combat the 90th Division had made an inauspicious beginning. Unfortunately it had had to take over a bridgehead the condition of which was still obscure, and had immediately run into a well-entrenched enemy in terrain most favorable to the defender. On the other hand, the division was not making the progress expected of it by the corps commander. The immediate action taken was to relieve the division commander and two regimental commanders. The division was now placed under the command of Maj. Gen. Eugene M. Landrum.3
In common with other units, the 90th Division had been seeking a solution to the problem of hedgerow fighting. The rolling terrain between the Douve and Merderet was Normandy hedgerow country at its worst. Except for the flat marshy bottomlands along the rivers and a few small wooded areas, the entire countryside was cut into small pastures, fields, and orchards, each with its inevitable hedgerow border. The hedgerows consisted of solid earth banks several feet high and mounted by another four or five feet of hedge--a mass of bush, vine, and bramble. Frequently there was a double hedgerow, with a drainage ditch between, thus forming a natural trench. The enemy made good use of the hedgerows, building up his resistance line directly behind them. Each hedgerow formed a natural breastwork high and thick enough to provide cover, concealment, and good fire positions. Adequate
THE GENTLY ROLLING TERRAIN OF THE SOUTH COTENTIN, with the inevitable hedgerow enclosing every field, is illustrated in the above air photo. The close-up below illustrates a Normandy road flanked by hedgerows, which were so advantageously utilized by the defenders.
protection against mortar and artillery fire could be obtained with an L-shaped foxhole dug into the embankment and laterally along the axis of the row. Automatic weapons were usually emplaced at the corners, where they could cover the open field in front and enfilade the hedgerow lines of approach.
Each hedgerow became a separate objective, each enclosed field a battleground, and the line of advance was often determined more by the configuration of the hedgerows than by the contour of the terrain. Observation was limited to a few hundred yards or less. Antitank guns had poor fields of fire. Control was difficult to maintain, and the maneuver of units hard to coordinate. Tanks could move across country only if preceded by dozers punching holes in the banks; and because of the tightness of these defenses, attacking infantry often had to advance to the very hedgerow behind which the enemy had established his defense in order to get at him. The battle was thus often joined at ranges of a few yards, and grenades had to be used to rout the enemy.
These natural advantages held by the enemy prevailed in other sectors as well as the 90th Division's. A partial solution to the combat problem was the persistent application of basic infantry principles and lessons--the axioms concerning fire and movement, control, bunching--and maximum initiative by individuals and small groups. This lesson was stressed in an operational memorandum issued on 19 June by 90th Division headquarters. It stated that the division's small gains and heavy losses were due in part to failure to apply training lessons properly and suggested stressing to the men the fundamentals of constant movement, of returning fire by some while others maneuver, and of following artillery closely. General Landrum also underscored these basic infantry tactics when he spoke to the battalion commanders of the 358th Infantry on 15 June. Some of his remarks were noted in the Regimental Journal:
Coming under hostile fire causes inertia to our troops . . . [do not] believe they're afraid, but bewildered, and this can be broken by common sense, applying simple tactics of fire and movement which are applicable in any type of fighting . . . it is doubtful whether any man is pinned down unless out in the open . . . mustn't let ourselves be stopped by fire . . . must get something moving right away . . . part of the line may have to take it, but have to get fire on the hostile weapons, the machine guns . . . it is seldom that any unit of any size is pinned down, so it should be possible always to maneuver some of your forces if there's any concealment at all, and there's plenty of it here . . . PWs say they can tell the direction from which we are coming and how we're going, which indicates we've got to control our fire . . . and they say also that we bunch up . . . we should be able to control our men better in this terrain . . . the danger of the 88 is that it multiplies in quantity as one man tells another about them, and finally our men think there are four times as many as there really are . . . it is an effective weapon, but it can be beaten . . . we have plenty of artillery to be used on call . . . .
When General Bradley on 9 June established the high priority for the seizure of Carentan and the firm junction of the V and VII Corps beachheads, he also directed that the 4th and 90th Divisions were to maintain pressure in the direction of Cherbourg, and that the 9th Division and the 82d Airborne Division were to complete the blocking of the peninsula in the vicinity of St. Lô-d'Ourville and la Haye du Puits. The original Corps field order had provided that the 9th Division was to begin landing on D plus 4 and assemble as soon as practicable in the Colomby-Orglandes area, prepared for operations to the northwest. It was not anticipated that the division would have to fight its way to this area; but the slow progress of the 90th foreshadowed a serious delay in securing the Douve line and in blocking the enemy's western reinforcement corridor. On 12 June, therefore, General Collins decided to commit the 82d Airborne Division
The 9th Division Is Committed
THE TERRAIN WEST OF THE MERDERET in the vicinity of the la Fière crossing shown in this air vied affords still another example of the type of ground over which the 90th DIvision and others fought in the south Cotentin.
MAJ. GEN. MANTON S. EDDY, Commanding General, 9th Division.
and the 9th Division in the westward attack. The 82d was to concentrate on the north bank of the Douve west of the Merderet and to advance westward; the 9th was to cross the Merderet for operations in conjunction with the airborne division.
Units of the 82d Airborne Division were in various stages of reorganization on 12 June. With the Merderet bridgehead mission completed, the 507th and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments and the bulk of the 325th Glider Infantry had been relieved as the 90th Division passed through the bridgehead on 10 June. The two parachute regiments assembled and reorganized during the next two days with an effective strength of about 50 or 60 percent. The 505th Parachute Infantry and the 2d Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry, remained in the le Ham area until the morning of 13 June, when they were relieved by a battalion of the 359th Infantry.
On 11 June the 508th Parachute Infantry was alerted for a mission south of the Douve. Organized as a combat team, with the 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion and antiaircraft, engineer, medical, signal, and reconnaissance attachments, the 508th Parachute Infantry was ordered to cross the Douve on 12 June in the vicinity of Beuzeville-la Bastille under cover of darkness. The objective was to pinch off the area between the Douve and the Prairies Marécageuses de Gorges along the line Beuzeville-Baupte. At Baupte a junction was to be effected with the 101st Airborne Division, thus linking up the two Douve bridgeheads. This operation, beginning at midnight on 12 June, was successfully carried out and Baupte was reached by 0800 the next morning. Meanwhile, the 325th Glider Infantry and 507th Parachute Infantry were alerted for the projected advance westward.
The 9th Division (Ma;. Gen. Manton S. Eddy commanding) had begun to debark on Utah Beach on 10 June, as planned. The 39th Infantry was attached to the 4th Division to assist in clearing the coastal area to Quinéville. The remainder of the division was unloading rapidly enough to be ready for commitment on 14 June. Late on 12 June the division received a warning order from VII Corps, alerting it for a possible movement westward across the Merderet.
General Collins issued more detailed orders verbally the next day. They provided for a coordinated attack by the 9th and 82d Divisions on 14 June. Both divisions were to pass through the 90th Division, the 82d attacking along the Pont l'Abbé-St. Sauveur-le Vicomte highway toward St. Sauveur-le Vicomte, and the 9th attacking on its right toward Ste. Colombe (Map X). The two divisions thus took over the 90th Division's objective-the line of the Douve. In addition the 9th had the further mission of crossing the Douve and blocking of the peninsula west of
the Prairies Marécageuses. The 90th Division was given a new objective. After the other divisions had passed through, it was to pivot northward on Beauvais and establish itself on the east-west line from Montebourg Station to the bend in the Douve at Terre de Beauval, thus covering the north flank of the 9th Division as the latter drove westward. Meanwhile, in view of the previous slow progress of the 90th Division, General Collins asked General Bradley for a replacement and was given the 79th Division, which, however, was not to be employed until later.
The new assignments for 14 June resulted in some involved maneuvering during the following days. At no time did the 90th Division disengage entirely. It continued to attack, wheeling gradually toward its new objective; only in the south was any unit of the division passed through and relieved by units of the other divisions.
Two regiments of the 82d Airborne Division were employed for the attack astride the highway west of Pont l'Abbé. The 325th Glider Infantry moved along the left of the road, the 507th Parachute Infantry along the right. On the morning of 14 June the initial attack was to be led by the 358th Infantry. It was agreed that this regiment should seize the road junction 1,000 yards to the west and that the 82d Airborne Division was to carry the attack from there.
Two battalions of the 358th Infantry moved out astride the road at 0850. Reaching the limited objective involved pushing the Germans off a small nose which extended across the highway near the road junction. This was done by early afternoon, despite close-range mortar fire and 88-mm. fire from across the river. At noon elements of the 507th Parachute Infantry began passing through the 358th Infantry on the right, and by evening the regiment was relieved. The 507th Parachute Infantry and 325th Glider Infantry continued the advance. moving in columns of battalions. An evening counterattack forced back the 507th's right a few hundred yards. At the end of the day the two leading battalions were along the road south of Bonneville.
Meanwhile, the 359th Infantry in the center had begun to turn gradually north, thus opening a gap in the 90th Division front near Gottot. Into this gap the first elements of the 9th Division were committed. The gap was at first only wide enough to permit the employment of one battalion. The 60th Infantry of the 9th Division therefore launched its initial attack in a column of battalions, the 3d Battalion leading. As the northward turning maneuver of the 90th Division continued on the right and the 82d Airborne Division on the left drove almost straight west, the 9th Division zone in the center widened.
The initial objective of the 60th Infantry was Renouf. From there it was to advance northwest to the high ground west of Orglandes. Troops were under rifle, mortar, and artillery fire from the line of departure and movement was slow. But by mid-afternoon the two lead companies had pushed up the road to Renouf, Company K occupying the town at 1800. The 2d Battalion was then brought up on the right and, advancing abreast, the 2d and 3d Battalions reached the Valognes-Pont l'Abbé highway by dark. Shortly before midnight General Eddy ordered the 60th Infantry to attack at 0500 the next day, 15 June, and push on vigorously, since enemy reinforcements from the 265th Division were reported to be moving up. First Army had sent word of the arrival of this division in the area of St. Sauveur-le Vicomte, and this report was confirmed on 15 June when the 82d identified two regiments of the 265th Division, the 894th and 895th Regiments.
While the 60th Infantry made good progress northwestward, the 359th Infantry of the 90th Division, turning north-northwest toward Orglandes, was opposed stubbornly, field by field. The two lead battalions became
separated when the 2d Battalion failed to keep abreast of the 3d, and enemy riflemen infiltrated into this gap, nearly encircling the 3d Battalion for part of the day.
The 357th Infantry, on the right flank of the 359th, also encountered difficulties. On 14 June it prepared to attack Gourbesville again, its objective being the Gourbesville-Beauvais line. An air mission arranged for 1400 was canceled for lack of proper marking smoke, and an artillery preparation was substituted at 1800. Because of poor coordination, a number of shells fell on American troops and the attack became disorganized. The concentration was fired again at 1930 and the 3d Battalion entered the village at 2230. It was unable, however, to clean out enemy resistance that night, and Gourbesville remained in enemy hands.
The push to win the Douve line continued with varying success on 15 June. The 3d Battalion of the 357th Infantry, after a full day's fighting, finally captured Gourbesville. Late in the day the 3d Battalion, 358th Infantry, attacked around the right of the 3d Battalion, 357th Infantry, toward le Calais under orders to seize the crossroads south of Urville. At the same time the 359th Infantry attacked northward, intending to pass Orglandes to the east and cut the Orglandes-Urville road. The two attacks were to pinch out the 3d Battalion, 357th Infantry, clearing the 359th Infantry's flank. But the 359th Infantry gained only about 1,000 yards, far short of its objective.
Substantially larger gains were made on 15 June by the 82d and 9th Divisions in their drive westward. The 82d, attacking astride the highway to St. Sauveur-le Vicomte, encountered only moderate resistance throughout the day. The enemy used some tanks to oppose the advance. The 325th Glider Infantry made the largest gains and reached Rauville, only 1,000 yards from St. Sauveur-le Vicomte. During the day the 507th was relieved by the 505th Parachute Infantry, the change slowing up the advance along the right of the road. Nevertheless, the 505th reached a line south of Reigneville by nightfall.
The attack of the 9th Division (initially only the 60th Infantry) was coordinated with that of the 82d Airborne Division. It began at 0500 on 15 June and ran into the last determined resistance offered by the enemy east of the Douve. Shortly after the attack started, the 90th Division reported sixteen tanks moving south from Orglandes. These tanks apparently did not constitute part of any coordinated infantry-tank counterattack, for no determined thrust developed. Bazookas and 57-mm. antitank guns knocked out three Mark III's and forced the rest to withdraw. The 60th Infantry lost two antitank guns. By 0900 the regiment had advanced approximately s 00 yards beyond the Orglandes-Bonneville road, where the 1st Battalion on the right was strongly counterattacked by four tanks and an estimated battalion of infantry. It was thrown back 500 yards to the road. The commanders of both Companies A and B were lost in this action and the battalion suffered other casualties. The 2d Battalion, immediately to the rear, countered the enemy thrust, however, and regained half the lost ground.
During the morning, the division commander had shifted the 60th Infantry's axis of attack slightly, assigning to it the mission of taking Reigneville and, as the 359th Infantry turned north and the 60th Infantry attacked west, it became feasible to commit another regiment. The 47th Infantry was brought in on the 60th Infantry's right and given the latters former objective--the high ground west of Orglandes.
The 47th Infantry moved out shortly after noon, the 1st Battalion leading. The companies were initially so widely spread that the 3d Battalion could not jump off until about 1630. It advanced rapidly, however, and reached the forward slopes of the objective by
dark. The situation on the northern flank caused some concern, as the 1st Battalion was held up for some time by fire from Orglandes on its right rear. Late in the afternoon the 1st Battalion forged ahead again, easing the situation on the 3d Battalion's right. It exposed itself, however, and was then echeloned to the right to protect that flank.
This maneuver became characteristic of the entire 3-division front on 15 June. Not only was the attack fanning out west to northwest, but the enemy was apparently pivoting his withdrawal to give up his north-south line in favor of one generally east-west, athwart the peninsula. The enemy's left, opposing the 90th Division, consequently became the anchor of his resistance and the 9th Division and he 82d Airborne Division, attacking westward, cut obliquely at his withdrawal routes. In each case, therefore, the American right flank units found themselves bucking the strongest enemy opposition while the left flank units advanced with comparative ease.
The exact strength of the enemy was unknown. Elements of the 77th Division and 265th Division were identified by the 9th Division and 82d Airborne Division respectively. In general, however, the Germans seemed to be delaying with small groups and taking advantage of good defensive ground which compensated in part for their numerical inferiority.
To keep the enemy from reinforcing and organizing a better coordinated defense, it was essential to push to the Douve River line quickly. On the afternoon of 15 June, General Collins ordered the 325th Glider Infantry to advance to the Rauville ridge line without regard to the actions of the regiment on its right. The 505th Parachute Infantry was to try to advance to the same line, but its right was to be refused in order to maintain contact with the 60th Infantry. Similarly the 47th Infantry's right was to tie in with the 359th Infantry.
On the afternoon of 15 June General Collins announced: "The major effort of the Corps is now to cut the peninsula." By this time the advance westward had progressed sufficiently so that the entire effort could be focused toward that end. For 16 June General Collins ordered an attack all along the line from the Douve to Gourbesville. The 82d Airborne Division was to continue toward St. Sauveur-le Vicomte. The 358th Infantry was to attack northwest from Gourbesville, and the 9th Division, advancing between the 90th and the 82d Divisions, was to seize the rough arc formed by the line Reigneville-Hautteville-Bocage-Orglandes-Gourbesville. The 39th Infantry was now to be committed on the right of the 359th Infantry, which was placed under the 9th Division commander in order to establish proper coordination and control. The division was therefore to attack with four regiments in line from right to left-the 39th, 359th, 47th, and 60th (Map X).
Attack Along the Douve River Line
In the 90th Division one only one regiment was involved in the advance toward Urville on 16 June, the 357th Infantry having been temporarily withdrawn to a reserve position. The 358th Infantry prepared to jump off at 0800, but there were several delays, due primarily to the 1st Battalion's loss of direction. The attack did not get off until 1715, at which time Lieutenant Colonel Bealke's 3d Battalion led the advance into le Calais.
Developments in the vicinity of St. Sauveur-le Vicomte suddenly changed the whole tempo of the battle. The 82d Airborne and 9th Division units jumped off at various times between 0500 and 0800 on the morning of 16 June, but it was the attack of the 325th Glider Infantry, assisted by tanks of Company A, 746th Tank Battalion, which touched of the complete rout of the remaining enemy units
east of the Douve and paced the 2-division drive to the Douve line.
At noon three regiments--the 325th Glider Infantry, 505th Parachute Infantry, and the 508th Parachute Infantry which had joined the other two--were poised on the east bank of the river overlooking the town of St. Sauveur-le Vicomte. From this position the enemy could be observed withdrawing from the town. General Ridgway, realizing the possibilities of the situation, asked Corps' permission to cross the river into town and establish a bridgehead. Meanwhile he had the artillery deliver interdictory fire on the roads leading north, west, and south from the town, and the 1st Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry, was alerted to cross the river and cut the road to the southwest. An hour after the Corps commander had approved General Ridgway's request, elements of the division were crossing the river, meeting little resistance. By dark a firm bridgehead was established and secured with a perimeter defense 2,000 to 2,500 yards out from the town. Engineers bridged the Douve and tanks entered the town that evening.
The events at St. Sauveur-le Vicomte were a turning point in the whole drive westward. The success of the 82d Airborne Division gave such impetus to the 9th Division's attack that it gathered a momentum which carried it swiftly across the peninsula.
When the 9th Division had jumped of early in the day its initial objectives were Reigneville (60th Infantry), Hautteville-Bocage (47th Infantry), Orglandes (359th Infantry), and the ground west of Gourbesville (39th Infantry). The attack had just begun when the order was given to push hard to the Douve. Even before the 82d Airborne Division achieved the breakthrough at St. Sauveur-le Vicomte, there had been signs that the enemy was withdrawing west of the Douve. Heavy enemy traffic through St. Sauveur-le Vicomte had been observed during the night.
At 1130 General Collins called 9th Division headquarters and ordered General Eddy to have the 60th and 47th Infantry Regiments push hard to Ste. Colombe with the 39th Infantry swinging around to protect the flank. General Eddy immediately ordered the 60th Infantry to push all three battalions to the river. Early in the afternoon he urged the 47th Infantry (Col. George W. Smythe) to get on the high ground east of Ste. Colombe, over which the Valognes-St. Sauveur-le Vicomte highway ran. In the Hautteville-Bocage and Biniville area the 47th Infantry met stubborn resistance, as expected, for this high ground was the last on which the enemy could make a stand east of the Douve. Shortly after General Eddy issued his orders at 1330, news of the 82d Airborne Division's crossing of the Douve was received and General Collins designated Colleville and Ste. Colombe as the 47th Infantry objectives. During the day the 47th Infantry pushed well beyond Biniville and established itself on the main highway. Coupled with the pace-setting drive of the 325th Glider Infantry, the rupture of the German defenses south of Orglandes by the 9th Division won the battle to sever the peninsula.
Meanwhile the 39th Infantry cleared the ground west of Gourbesville and the 359th Infantry pushed up to the black-top road leading into Orglandes from the east. At that point it was halted. To make it possible for the 39th Infantry to get behind the 47th and help protect the north flank of the division, it was decided that the 39th would make a left turn and attack across the front of the 359th Infantry into Orglandes. But a counterattack developed east of the town and the attack was delayed until evening. The 1st Battalion, which led the assault, was unable to clear the village that night. The 359th Infantry's movement north was also held up.
The 2d Battalion, 60th Infantry, meanwhile had begun to lead the important push to Ste. Colombe, with the intention of establishing
a bridgehead over the Douve. While the 1st Battalion took over the clearing of Reigneville, the 2d Battalion, under Lt. Col. Michael B. Kauffman, swung cross country, south of Reigneville, and headed for the main crossroads in a column of companies. Company E led, followed by Company F, each with a platoon of heavy machine guns, which had to be hand-carried. Machine-gun fire from houses down the road was encountered at the crossroads, but a Company E platoon crossed the road, worked its way up to the houses, killed several Germans, and took sixteen or seventeen prisoners. A wide arc was made to the north to avoid tanks which had been observed on the road, and Ste. Colombe was entered without opposition.
The Douve River is not impressive at Ste. Colombe. It splits into three small streams spanned by three bridges--one hardly more than a culvert--connecting Ste. Colombe on the east bank with Néhou on the west. The river bed is narrower than the Merderet at la Fière and the ground between the three streams relatively firm. Neither town has a particularly commanding position because the banks rise gradually and hedgerows in the area make observation poor.
A pre-invasion map reconnaissance had been made in anticipation of crossing of the Douve at this point. However, intelligence had indicated that there were mine fields on the west bank, south of Néhou, and the 9th Division had considered fording the river farther north. But in the fast-moving situation of the 16th it had been decided to make a dash to Ste. Colombe and cross as quickly as possible.
ST SAUVEUR-LE VICOMTE, shown looking west, where the 82d Airborne Division seized a bridgehead by noon of 16 June. By evening, engineers had spanned the Douve, allowing tanks to cross, and the bridgehead was extended 2,000-3,000 yards beyond the city.
Company E led the movement from Ste. Colombe, some men riding tanks of Company B, 746th Tank Battalion. Without supporting fire, the 2d Battalion pushed into the river bed and seized the first and second bridges intact. As the third bridge was out, the tanks turned back. When all three rifle companies were on the causeway, enemy shells began to land and some small-arms fire was received from Néhou. Despite the lack of tank support, Company E established itself on the west bank and held there in the face of artillery fire and direct fire from enemy self- propelled guns somewhere in the vicinity of Néhou. The company's ammunition ran low and its situation became precarious. Parts of Company F and Company G started across, but, finding themselves under enemy fire, some dug in between the bridges and others were pulled back to Ste. Colombe.
Colonel Kauffman asked for relief, but he was told by General Collins to hold on, that the 3d Battalion would move to his aid. The ammunition shortage was eased when the battalion commander returned from Regiment with a loaded 2½-ton truck. Company G then managed to join Company E on the west bank. But the attack on Néhou was postponed until the next day. The battalion was badly shaken; there was still no tank support; and darkness was approaching. That night the 3d Battalion joined the exhausted 2d Battalion to strengthen the position on the left bank. Next morning the 3d led the attack westward.
THE VALLEY OF THE DOUVE between Ste. Colombe and Néhou was the scene of the bridgehead attack of the 2d Battalion, 60th Infantry, on the night of 16 June. Shown here, looking southwest, is the main bridge and beyond it the road leading to Néhou.
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1. Colonel Millett's group took no further part in the Merderet bridgehead action. On 9 June, numbering 155 officers and men out of 400 originally assembled, the group moved to Neuville-au-Plain, bivouacked there the night of 9-10 June, and joined the 508th Parachute Infantry on 10 June.
2. The 3d Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry, had originally been the 2d Battalion of the 401st Glider Infantry and included Companies E, F, G, and H.
3. General MacKelvie was relieved without prejudice. He had been in command of the division since January 1944.