The original plan of VII Corps had contemplated a 2-division drive on Cherbourg, with the 90th Division on the right and the 4th Division on the left. The 9th Division was to be close at hand should the need for its employment in this operation arise. This plan of deployment was modified in the first days of the operation as a result of the protracted struggle for the Merderet bridgehead and the determined enemy resistance along the Quinéville Ridge. Still, until 18 June General Collins contemplated using the 4th and 90th Divisions for the drive on Cherbourg, though he had asked for and received the 79th Division as a possible replacement for the 90th. He wished to begin the attack northward as soon as possible and, on 16 June, with the 90th Division still short of its objective between the Douve and Merderet and the 9th Division not yet at the Douve, the 4th Division had been ordered to prepare for an attack northwestward in conjunction with the 90th Division. But the attack order was withheld pending the outcome of operations west of the Douve. The enemy expected an attempted breakthrough on 17 June and was surprised when it did not occur. When the peninsula was cut that day, plans were again made for the jump-off of the 4th and 90th Divisions to Cherbourg, and a surprise attack was tentatively scheduled for 19 June.
The Drive On Cherbourg
These plans were changed at the last minute after a meeting between General Bradley, General Collins, and some of the division commanders on 18 June. It was decided that the drive on Cherbourg would be made by three divisions abreast--the 4th on the right, the 79th in the center, and the 9th on the left. Among the factors which contributed to this change were recent intelligence concerning enemy dispositions, the unreadiness of the 90th Division, and the availability of a fresh division--the 79th. General Bradley had previously authorized the Corps to bypass the enemy positions along the east coast. This entire right flank was to be covered by elements of the 4th Cavalry Group. The attack was thus directed straight at Cherbourg.
The 9th and 79th Divisions were to attack at 0500, 19 June. The 9th Division's initial objective was the high ground between Rauville-la Bigot and St. Germain-le Gaillard (Map XII). The 79th's main effort was to be made on its left, to seize the high ground west and northwest of Valognes. Separating the two divisions was an oblong area approximately 6 miles long and 2½ miles wide, west of the Douve and the main railway, in which the 4th Cavalry Squadron was to reconnoiter and maintain contact between the 9th and 79th Divisions. The 4th Division's attack was to start as a night operation, beginning at 0300,
the objective being the commanding ground at Tamerville and northeast thereof.
For the next eight days the effort of the entire VII Corps was to be directed toward the capture of Cherbourg and was, in fact, the focus of attention of the whole First Army, since future operations were greatly dependent on the seizure of this port. The drive was expected to yield a considerable prize in prisoners, though the exact number of enemy forces in the peninsula was not known. Estimates varied between 2,000 and 40,000 troops, including not only the enemy units already encountered but also the Cherbourg garrison, Luftwaffe, antiaircraft, rocket, and naval personnel, and Todt Organization workers.
Opposing the three American divisions on 18 June were elements of four German divisions. The 9th Division had identified elements of the 920th and 921st Regiments of the 243d Division and the 1049th and 1050th Regiments of the 77th Division. The latter had been trapped in the peninsula when the enemy plan of withdrawal was disrupted by the rapid thrust of the 9th Division beyond the Douve, and by the firm stand of the 60th Infantry and 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, along the northern flank. Between the Douve and Merderet, where the 79th Division was to pass through the 90th Division, were other fragments of the 1049th Regiment as well as elements of the 1057th Regiment (91st Division), which was supposed to have withdrawn southward. Confronting the 4th Division were elements of all three regiments of the 243d Division, Sturm Battalion AOK 7, all three regiments of the 709th Division, and artillery and antiaircraft batteries. Some of these units had suffered heavy casualties in the past thirteen days and all were understrength. Sturm Battalion AOK 7, for example, was whittled down to a strength of about one hundred men. On the southern flank, facing the 357th Infantry, were elements of the 1057th, 1058th, and 922d Regiments. This disposition of the enemy's forces indicated that his units were split by the cutting of the peninsula. Fragments of the 243d Division were on both the 9th and 4th Division fronts.
During the four days prior to the jump-off for Cherbourg on 19 June the enemy opposite the 4th Division had had time to prepare defenses, especially in the Montebourg area. After the capture of Quinéville on 14 June the only American activity was patrolling and reorganization. The 8th and 12th Infantry Regiments improved their positions. The 22d Infantry temporarily took over the Quinéville area when the 39th Infantry was detached from the 4th Division, but in the following days the 22d Infantry was in turn relieved by the 24th Cavalry Squadron (part of the 4th Cavalry Group) and went into assembly at Fontenay-sur-Mer.
The First Day
For the attack of 19 June, General Barton planned to use the 8th and 12th Infantry Regiments abreast, one on either side of Montebourg (Map No. 26). The railway running southwest and northeast from Montebourg was designated as the line of departure, although it was still in enemy hands. The attack was to begin at 0300, without artillery, and bypass the town. Beginning at 1000, the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry, was to enter Montebourg from the west and capture it. The regiment's 2d Battalion was to remain in reserve and the 1st Battalion, in the vicinity of le Mont de Lestre, was to screen the 12th Infantry as it prepared for the attack. Artillery fires, available on call, included the reinforcing fire of the 183d Field Artillery Battalion (155-mm howitzer) and the 801st Tank Destroyer Battalion.
The 8th and 12th Infantry Regiments planned the main effort along their common boundary, their intermediate objectives being the heights northwest of Montebourg. Since
Map No. 26: 4th Division Attack, 19 June 1944
the 12th's first objectives were Hills 100 and 119, its attack was to lead it almost directly west from its line of departure. The regimental field order did not provide for supporting fires.
Fairly heavy resistance could be expected in front of the 8th Infantry. Patrols had located several enemy positions west of Montebourg and it was known that remnants of the Sturm Battalion AOK 7 and 2d Battalion, 729th Regiment, were dug in along the railway from Montebourg to Montebourg Station, and that the 2d Battalion, 921st Regiment, was also in the area, although its exact location was not determined. The enemy's strength along this front was estimated at between 1,000 and 1,500 men. Colonel Van Fleet arranged for heavy fire by the mortars of all three battalions and by Company C of the 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion. The 1st and 2d Battalions were to lead the attack, with the 1st Chemical Mortar Battalion echeloned to the left rear. The first 1,500 yards were to be covered before daylight. This would take the regiment through the enemy's prepared positions.
Both the 8th and 12th Infantry Regiments attacked at 0300, as scheduled. The enemy was well dug in along the railway, the intended
line of departure, and at dawn the 12th was still held up short of this line, subjected to heavy artillery and Nebelwerfer fire. At daylight, however, the German line was broken by the 1st Battalion with the support of Company A, 70th Tank Battalion, and Hill 10 was captured at about 1000. The 3d Battalion, on the right, had also been held up and was ordered to wait for the tanks, which arrived only after finishing the mission with the 1st Battalion. With their support, the 3d Battalion seized Hill I 19 at 1600. Late in the afternoon the 2d Battalion passed through the center, relieved the 1st Battalion, and drove on to the next height, 3,000 yards east of Valognes. There the two battalions established their line that night.
Since the railway was strongly held, the 8th Infantry gauged its jump- off from the highway to reach the line of departure at 0300. The men of the leading platoons of Company F (Capt. John A. Kulp) crossed the road at 020, following the mortar fire so closely that "it burned their faces." From then on the attack had the characteristic confusion of night operations. Company F walked right through the enemy lines almost without being fired on. But when Captain Kulp reached his objective 1,000 yards northwest of Montebourg, he discovered that he had only forty-five men and had lost two platoons. Meanwhile, Company E (Lt. John C. Rebarchek) crossed the tracks and reached a sunken trail where it picked up one platoon of Company F, which had been fighting there. This force then moved through the enemy position and joined Captain Kulp's men on the objective.
The rest of the 2d Battalion was also having a hard fight along the railway. It was impossible to reach the enemy in his deep entrenchments even with mortars. After several hours of fighting a platoon of tanks (Company B, 70th Tank Battalion) came up and, with its support, the battalion circled through the edge of Montebourg and attacked the German positions from the rear. This finally broke the enemy's resistance and forced him to withdraw. As he fell back, pursued by the 2d Battalion and pressed by the 12th Infantry on the right, he was driven into the position held by elements of Company F and Company E. Caught in the squeeze, large numbers of the enemy were killed.
Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion had attacked on the left at 0300 and had encountered similar opposition, but, like the 3d Battalion, it finally broke through with the aid of tanks. Early in the evening the 2d Battalion moved abreast of the 1st Battalion and the 3d Battalion was committed in the center. By nightfall the three battalions held a line from la Victoire to Huberville. The 12th Infantry held the high ground to the right rear.
Due to the prolonged delay of the 8th and 12th Regiments in pushing past Montebourg, the 3d Battalion of the 22d Infantry, which was to have occupied the town at 1000, did not move in until 1800. Repeatedly shelled for a week, Montebourg was abandoned by the Germans. About three hundred French civilians emerged from the cellars. Later in the evening the bulk of the 22d Infantry was concentrated on the right flank of the division, intent on pushing the attack again early the net day.
Westward in the peninsula enemy opposition was progressively lighter. Advancing northward the 79th Division encountered only delaying action by enemy security and demolition detachments on the roads, and made good progress on its first day of combat. The 9th Division made an even more rapid advance up the west coast. In fact, it was little more than a road march.
Both the 79th and 9th Divisions jumped of at 0500, 19 June (Map XIII). The 79th Division's objective, the high ground west and northwest of Valognes, was divided between the 313th and 315th Infantry Regiments. Valognes was not within the division's zone and
THE CITY OF MONTEBOURG was in ruins when the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry, entered on 19 June. It had been subjected to heavy air and artillery bombardment to avoid costly street fighting in gaining possession of the city.
the 315th Infantry was instructed to bypass the town and cut the Valognes-Cherbourg highway. The main effort of the division was to be made on the left by the 313th Infantry. The division's line of departure was the former objective line of the 90th Division, stretching roughly from the Golleville to Urville.
The 313th Infantry attacked with its 1st and 3d Battalions. The 1st Battalion met only slight resistance and took its objective, the Bois de la Brique, northwest of Valognes, by 1400. The 3d Battalion encountered more opposition, but gained its objective after using the bulk of its artillery support.
The advance of the 315th Infantry was slower. The 1st Battalion drew fairly heavy enemy fire 2,000 yards north of Urville, and the 2d Battalion was counterattacked after passing Lieusaint, farther west. It could not move forward again until 1900, and made
only a slight advance before digging in for the night. It had been unable to reach its objective or cut the Valognes-Cherbourg road. The 3d Battalion came up early in the evening to clean out snipers around Lieusaint, but the situation at Valognes was still vague. A considerable number of stragglers offered scattered resistance west of town and around the Bois de la Brique. In view of this situation General Wyche decide to leave the 315th to contain the town from the west. The 313th was now to make the main effort on the right of the division's zone, and the 314th was to come up on its left. General Wyche decided to commit the 314th the same evening and at about 1920 ordered the regiment to move out immediately, designating as its objective the first high ground beyond the confluences of the Gloire and Merderet Rivers. Within a half hour the 2d Battalion was on the move, and reached its objective, Croix Jacob, at 0415 the next morning.
The 9th Division, meanwhile, made a relatively uneventful march of over ten miles, several thousand yards beyond its assigned objective--the high ground between St. Germain-le Gaillard and Rauville-la Bigot (Map XIII). The 60th and 39th Infantry Regiments moved out at 0550, each with two battalions abreast. Initially there was no contact with the enemy, but none had been expected. The best estimate was that the Germans had fallen back to Cherbourg, though it was thought they might have strong points at Bricquebec and les Pieux. Bricquebec was the objective of the 2s Battalion of the 39th Infantry,
MAJ. GEN. IRA T. WYCHE, Commanding General, 79th Division, with General Eisenhower.
the right flank battalion of the division. No enemy was found in the town and it was occupied by 0700.
The advance of all four battalions was rapid. They simply marched to designated objectives, usually commanding heights and likely defense areas, and checked these for possible enemy occupation. There was no opposition all morning and shortly after noon all units were on their objectives. Approximately one hundred enemy stragglers were picked up in this period and the 39th Infantry found the body of General Stegmann of the 77th Division, who had been killed on 17 June.
The advance of the division had been so rapid that it was necessary to pause momentarily to effect coordination with other elements of the Corps. The bomb line had to be moved forward. General Eddy issued fragmentary orders at 1330 for the 60th Infantry to reorganize at St. Germain-le Gaillard and Crosville, preparatory to continuing the advance, and authorized Col. Frederick J. de Rohan (commanding the regiment) to send motorized patrols to les Pieux pending further orders. The 39th Infantry was directed to reorganize at Rauville-la Bigot.
The 4th Cavalry Group (minus 24th Squadron and Troop B, 4th Cavalry Squadron) had divided its forces and moved out on schedule that morning to reconnoiter the area between the 9th and 79th Divisions and maintain contact between them. Troops A and C jumped off from Néhou toward Negreville and Troop E and Company F proceeded from Blandamour north toward Rocheville. For a while these units kept pace with the 9th Division, encountering only slight resistance on the Bricquebec- Negreville line and converging rapidly toward Rocheville. Near the town the advance elements of Troop A suddenly drew heavy artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire. A dismounted reconnaissance force discovered what was believed to be an enemy delaying force of approximately one reinforced platoon, with two antiaircraft guns, in the village. Troop E provided an artillery preparation with its assault guns, and then dismounted personnel of Troops A and C, with tanks from Company F, wiped out the position. The cavalry was still not abreast of the 39th Infantry at Rauville-la Bigot.
General Eddy was anxious to press the retreating enemy, reported to be badly disorganized in the previous day's action, to deny him time for reorganization in the rugged terrain around Cherbourg. However, further advance without flank protection seemed inadvisable. The cavalry's zone of operation, extending only a few thousand yards north of Rocheville, was therefore enlarged northward and the cavalry group (really a squadron in size) was attached to the 9th Division. The 9th Division's boundary was thus, extended eastward to include the area east of the railway between Martinvast and St. Martin-le Gréard. It was in this area that General Eddy planned to use the 4th Cavalry for the protection of the division's flank, particularly in the vicinity of les Flagues, astride the highway.
Meanwhile, General Collins received the Army commander's authorization to have the 1st Battalion, 359th Infantry, take over the Rocheville area. This battalion, which had not yet moved out of the Biniville area, was attached to the 9th Division for this limited mission. It was approximately 1600 when these arrangements were made. An hour later General Eddy issued additional fragmentary orders for the resumption of the advance, and the division again moved northward.
The 39th Infantry moved north to Couville, where it secured the highway junction that night, the 3d Battalion advancing to St. Christophe-du- Foc. The regiment was supported by part of the 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The 60th Infantry also had tank destroyer support (899th) and tanks (Company B, 746th Tank Battalion), and moved forward to bypass les Pieux. The 1st Battalion
TERRAIN IN THE NORTH COTENTIN gradually become hillier, with more pronounced ridges, deeper valleys, and frequent wooded areas. In the 79th Division sector along the Carentan-Cherbourg highway, shown above, there were patches of fairly open country. Below is a scene along the Cherbourg-Bricquebec road, farther west.
patrols reported the town clear at about 1730. The two leading battalions were then able to go on to Helleville, where they stopped late that night. Contact was made with French Resistance forces in les Pieux that evening. A lieutenant of the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) had mobilized a platoon, which brought in forty prisoners by nightfall and supplied detailed information concerning German defenses farther north.
Under its new orders, the 4th Cavalry Squadron moved toward les Flagues. Artillery and small arms delayed the column near Rauville-la Bigot, but forward elements reached St. Martin-le Gréard early that evening. The 4th Cavalry, 39th Infantry, and 60th Infantry were then roughly abreast on an east-west line running through Couville.
Meanwhile, the 47th Infantry had also joined the 9th Division's drive. This regiment had had varied missions that day. After being relieved by the 37th Infantry east of St. Lô-d'Ourville, it went into assembly in the vicinity of St. Jacques-de-Néhou. At noon it was alerted to move north to Bricquebec and two battalions started out at 1330. The 2d Battalion sent a motorized detachment to the road junction at Cadets and Fierville to clean out a pocket of Germans reported to number three hundred. The rest of the battalion moved up the Barneville-St. Germain road to pick up German stragglers. In the evening it assembled at Crosville and was alerted to follow the 60th Infantry past Helleville and swing northeast across the front of the 39th Infantry to the Bois du Mont Roc. This part of General Eddy's late afternoon orders, however, could not be executed on 19 June.
Late in the afternoon General Collins directed the 79th and 4th Divisions to continue the drive north that evening and block all the roads leading north and northwest from Valognes before dark, thus cutting of any enemy units still holding out in the Valognes area. But neither division was able to accomplish the task that night. During the day the strongest opposition to VII Corps had been in the east and proportionately smaller gains were therefore made on the right flank.
On the evening of 19 June, VII Corps announced the objectives for the next day. The 79th Division was to complete the seizure of its initial objective northwest of Valognes and then, with the Valognes-Cherbourg highway as its exit of advance, make its main effort on the right to seize the height which dominate Cherbourg from the southeast. The 4th Division, advancing along the right of the 79th, was to seize Hill 178 near Rufosses and then isolate Cherbourg from the east by driving on to the high ground at Tourlaville, east of the Trotebec River. The 9th Division, on the west, was to seize the commanding ground between Flottemanville-Hague and Octeville and block any movement from Cap de la Hague by capturing Hill 170 east of Haut Biville. Cherbourg would thus be isolated from the east and west and the enemy forces in the extremities of the peninsula could be dealt with after the city's fall.
Advance to the Fortified Line
On the evening of 19 June, General Barton issued verbal orders for the 22d Infantry, part of which was still in reserve at Fontenay-sur-Mer, to move northward into a new assembly area on the Quinéville Ridge. This would bring the regiment into position to support the 12th Infantry and fill the gap which had developed between the 12th Infantry and the 24th Cavalry Squadron. The 22d Infantry established itself on the northern slopes of the ridge, making contact with the cavalry at le Mont de Lestre and with the right rear of the 3d Battalion, 12th Infantry, 2,000 yards to the west.
Later in the evening General Barton decided to commit the 22d Infantry for the resumption of the drive on the next day. The division plan for 20 June called for an attack by
all three regiments. The 8th Infantry's objective was still the Tamerville area (Map XIII). Valognes, which was within the regiment's zone, was to be bypassed and contained, and entered only if free of Germans. The 22d Infantry was to take over the objective originally assigned to the 12th Infantry--the ground northeast of Tamerville. The 12th Infantry was given only a limited objective in the center and its attack was intended mainly as a demonstration. It was to be pinched out as soon as the 22d Infantry came abreast and was then to support the latter with fire. The decision to commit the 22d Infantry was possibly made with the view of permitting it to clear the area west of the Sinope River. The 22d was to begin its movement at 0330 so that it might come abreast of the 12th Infantry by daylight. To facilitate this coordination, one reinforced company of the 22d Infantry was to seize the tank ditch on the small tributary of the Sinope near Vaudreville by 2400.
The 4th Division's experience on 20 June was similar to the 9th's on the preceding day. When the attacks began it was found that the enemy had broken contact and retired northward. The 22d Infantry moved up during the night, as planned, came abreast of the 12th Infantry by daybreak, and kept on going. The 12th also reached its objective without incident and, at 0830, General Barton ordered the 2d Battalion, with a company of tank destroyers, to relieve the 8th Infantry in containing Valognes. This proved unnecessary when Colonel Van Fleet reported that patrols from his 1st Battalion had found the town clear, although the streets were so filled with rubble from previous bombardment that troops could not pass through.
Unknown to the 4th Division, the German commander had decided to disengage and withdraw his entire force to Fortress Cherbourg. With the cutting of the peninsula General von Schlieben had lost physical contact with the main German forces outside the Cotentin and was now on his own. Execution of the delayed withdrawal to the Cherbourg defenses was completely in his hands. Threatened with outflanking by the rapid push of the 9th Division up the west side of the peninsula, and under heavy pressure in the Montebourg area, von Schlieben decided on 19 June to disengage. Withdrawals began during the night. The remnants of the four divisions which he commanded had been so hard-pressed and were so battle weary, by his own admission, that almost no delaying actions were fought.
Despite the absence of opposition, the 4th Division's progress during the morning was not rapid. The 8th Infantry was delayed by the necessity of investigating conditions at Valognes. The 22d Infantry moved cautiously, unwilling to believe that the enemy had withdrawn. At 0915, Col. R. T. Foster, now commanding the 22d Infantry, was told that his battalions were not moving fast enough. "Rumor has it," he told his units, "that the 9th is within artillery range of Cherbourg. Guess Division Commander Barton is worried that somebody else will beat the 4th to Cherbourg."
About noon Colonel Van Fleet (8th Infantry) ordered his battalions to get on the roads and move rapidly. The 22d Infantry also took a route march formation and moved northward. In the afternoon General Collins directed General Barton to have the 8th Infantry seize Hill 178, west of Rufosses, the 12th Infantry take la Rogerie, and the 22d Infantry advance still farther to Hameau Gallis and the road junction to the north, patrolling in the direction of the strong points near Maupertus. Except for Hill 178, these objectives were reached that night, although not without opposition.
The 22d Infantry stopped short of le Theil, part of the regiment going into position south of the Saire River. There it was under direct observation and heavy fire from the high ground to the north which caused considerable casualties in the 1st Battalion.
The 8th Infantry first contacted enemy outposts southeast and east of Rufosses, meeting some resistance. The 3d Battalion was subjected to heavy artillery fire but attacked and took the town before dark, establishing a line just east of the Bois de Roudou. The 2d Battalion came under fire as it advance up the slope northwest of Rufosses. It was nearly dark when the battalion reached this point, and the men dug in along the road 600 yards east of the crossroads. Both the 8th and 22d Infantry Regiments had tanks from the 70th Tank Battalion in support. The 24th Cavalry Squadron protected the division's right flank, reconnoitering as far as Quettehou.
The 8th Infantry advanced more than six miles on 20 June, and the 22d more than eight miles. Due to the rapid progress units were often without communications with higher headquarters. General Barton, while finding it difficult to locate the command posts, nevertheless was gratified with the division's progress.
The 79th Division, like the 4th, had been unable to cut the road in its zone north of Valognes on the evening of 19 June. The division's main effort on 20 June was to be made on the right, along the Valognes- Cherbourg highway, in conjunction with the 4th Division, the objective being the heights dominating Cherbourg from the southeast (Map XIII). While the 315th Infantry remained to contain Valognes, the 313th was to move north to cut the highway and with the 314th attack northwestward along this axis.
THE CITY OF VALOGNES and enemy installations near by were targets of Ninth Air Force bombers for several days before the city was entered on 20 June. The 8th Infantry found the city deserted and the streets (below) so filled with rubble that they were impassable for several days.
Both regiments jumped off at 0600. The 313th Infantry, moving in a column of battalions, crossed the Gloire River to St. Joseph. From there it made rapid progress fro a time, as did the 8th Infantry a few thousand yards to the east. The 4th Reconnaissance Troop maintained contact between the two division in the wooded and hilly region of the upper Gloire. At Hameau du Long four light enemy tanks and an 88-mm. gun were captured intact. A few hundred yards farther on, the leading 2d Battalion received heavy artillery and machine-gun fire, but after a slight delay the regiment went on to the crossroads at Delasse. There the outposts of the prepared German line were encountered and the advance stopped.
The 314th Infantry's experience was similar. After following the 313th through la Brique it moved up the left of the highway,
battalions echeloned to the left rear. No attempt was made to hold the rocket bomb site southwest of Brix. Near this town the 3d Battalion captured eight tanks. Late in the afternoon the 1st and 3d Battalions were halted by heavy artillery fire as they approached the east-west highway east of St. Martin-le Gréard. Both regiments now sensed that they had come up against the prepared fortifications which lay four to five miles out from Cherbourg.
During the day the 315th Infantry cleared the area west of Valognes of several isolated enemy groups and then moved to an assembly area behind the other two regiments.
The 9th Division meanwhile continued its efforts to envelop the Cherbourg defenses from the west. On the afternoon of 19 June, when the division was making rapid progress, General Collins authorized General Eddy to continue northward in order to seize the high ground between Flottemanville-Hague and Octeville and to block the main route into the Cap de la Hague Peninsula. The 4th Cavalry Squadron and the 1st Battalion, 359th Infantry, were attached to protect the right flank, and two additional companies of tank destroyers of the 899th Battalion were given to the division for antitank protection. That afternoon General Eddy roughly outlined the division's plan of attack and both the 39th and 60th Infantry Regiments advanced another several thousand yards that evening. But the part of the plan which dealt with the 47th Infantry's commitment could not yet be implemented.
The plan was based on two major considerations--the necessity of blocking of the Cap de la Hague Peninsula, with its prepared defenses from which part of the enemy forces could be expected to make a stand, and the belief that the two key defense points blocking the approaches to Cherbourg were the Flottemanville-Hague and Bois du Mont du Roc areas. One regiment was assigned to each mission. The 60th Infantry was to attack straight north and block the exits from the peninsula. Its objectives were Hill 170, east of Haut Biville, and the ground from Branville north to the sea. The 47th Infantry was to follow the 60th about as far as Vasteville and then swing east to the Bois du Mont du Roc (Hill 171). In this maneuver it was to cross the front of the 39th Infantry, which was containing the enemy on the east. The 39th was to support the attack with fire and then, when uncovered by the 47th, move northward across the 47th's rear to attack through the Flottemanville- Hague defense area toward the strong point of Henneville, west of Cherbourg.
This complicated scheme of maneuver was dictated by several considerations. First, a change of direction from north to northeast had been ordered by Corps, and it was desirable to establish a pivot on which the movement could turn. Furthermore, the division was concerned about its right flank. The left flank elements of the 79th Division had not yet cleared the area east of the railroad, and the protection afforded the 9th Division's right rear by the mechanized cavalry of the 4th Cavalry Group was not considered adequate. The 39th Infantry was to provide this security to the division's right flank, guarding particularly against a hostile thrust from the east along the east-west road through St. Martin-le Gréard, and after some adjustment of positions was also to assist the 47th Infantry's advance with fire. An additional consideration in the choice of this order of attack was the fact that the 47th Infantry was relatively fresh.
In the attack on 20 June each regiment was supported by a company of tank destroyers and two battalions of field artillery. The 60th Infantry also had one company of tanks. The 4th Cavalry continued to operate on the division's right and the 1st Battalion of the 359th Infantry outposted the right rear to prevent enemy crossings of the upper Douve.
General Eddy expected Cherbourg to fall in a day or two, but events of 20 June proved this view to be over-optimistic. In fact, before the day ended it was necessary to revise the entire plan of operation.
At first all went well. Neither the 60th nor the 39th Infantry Regiment was opposed when it jumped of at 0800. The 60th, with the 2d and 3d Battalions abreast, occupied Vasteville, its intermediate objective line, without encountering resistance. By noon it had reached the high ground south of Biville and prepared to go on to Hill 170. The 60th Infantry was now getting into relatively open country. Fields were larger, trees fewer, and some of the hill tops were nearly bare. The enemy was dug in on the high ground to the north and had good observation. As the 60th Infantry advanced, it received an increasing amount of artillery fire.
The 47th Infantry, with the 2d Battalion leading the column, followed closely the right rear of the 60th and turned toward the creek line at the Bois de Norest, preparatory to jumping off for Hill 171. Before reaching the creek the leading battalions diverged, the 2d moving to the left of the woods, the 1st to the right. About noon Brig. Gen. Donald A. Stroh, 9th Division assistant commander, ordered troops to halt at the stream line at the bottom of Hill 171 so that artillery fires could be laid preparatory to a coordinated attack. Apparently no serious opposition had been expected up to that point.
Early in the afternoon the two battalions crossed the first stream, the 1st Battalion moving toward Sideville and the 2d Battalion advancing up the road to Crossroads 114, southeast of Acqueville. Both battalions were suddenly stopped by artillery and small-arms fire from positions on the heights to the east. The first fire encountered by the 2d Battalion came from houses at Crossroads 114, used as an outpost. This was followed by heavy fire from 88-mm. guns, 20-mm. antiaircraft guns, and machine guns dug in on the crest of a hill a few hundred yards east. Companies E and F, advancing astride the road, were forced to earth by shell fire. One 88-mm. shell landed in the center of a small group of the command, killing the battalion commander, a platoon leader of Company F, and the artillery liaison officer, and wounding both the commander and the executive officer of Company F, a radio operator, and two runners. Some men from Companies G and E pushed across the road, but the battalion was unprepared to reduce the position and had to pull back.
The heavy resistance at Crossroads 114 had an immediate repercussion since the execution of the whole 9th Division plan hinged largely on the 47th Infantry breaking through at this point. With the 47th delayed, it would become difficult for the 39th Infantry to move through to Flottemanville-Hague. Consequently, General Eddy altered the original plan. He ordered two battalions of the 60th Infantry to proceed at once to Flottemanville-Hague and then to Henneville, originally the 39th's objective. The 3d Battalion was to continue to Crossroads 167, the junction of the les Pieux and Cherbourg roads into the Cap de la Hague Peninsula, and defend the flank of the division against enemy attack from the northwest. One battalion of the 39th Infantry was alerted to move north and occupy Flottemanville-Hague after its capture by the 60th Infantry.
At 1630, when he issued these orders, General Eddy was still optimistic and believed that, with these adjustments, the advance could be continued. Col. Harry Flint (39th Infantry) was ordered, two hours later, to prepare two battalions for an attack along the les Pieux- Cherbourg highway.
Colonel de Rohan of the 60th Infantry issued orders for an attack at 191. The attack was to move eastward astride the main road to Flottemanville-Hague with the 1st Battalion on the right and the 2d Battalion on the
left. The 3d Battalion continued north toward the main highway intersection near Branville and came to within 1,300 yards of its objective. The 1st and 2d Battalions, however, immediately encountered enemy fire from prepared positions near Gourbesville and were unable to go farther. Near Acqueville to the south the 47th Infantry also continued to receive heavy fire in the evening and abandoned plans to capture the heights beyond Crossroads 114; its 2d Battalion withdrew several hundred yards. Consequently the 39th Infantry could not implement is plan either, and the orders were canceled.
Thus, on 20 June, the rapid progress of the 9th Division came to a sudden halt. The resistance which the enemy began to offer on the line Gourbesville-Acqueville-Sideville was impressive, and the 9th Division, like the 79th and the 4th, was well aware that it had now run into the prepared positions around Cherbourg.
Since the jump-off on 19 June the three divisions had come into a new type of terrain. In advancing up the peninsula they had gradually left the low-lying south Cotentin and were now in the hilly north (Map XII). In the eastern half of the peninsula a hilly region first becomes apparent at Montebourg and gradually leads to higher ground near Cherbourg. Between Valognes and the port are several large wooded areas. The approach along the western half of the peninsula is even less favorable, as the region west of the Douve is frequently broken by ridges and stream valleys. Much of the country is of the "bocage" type, with fairly steep hills and steep-sided valleys; toward the northwest it becomes rugged, with open relief and rocky cliffs. Immediately backing the city of Cherbourg is a collar of steeply rising ground with frequent outcroppings of bare rock. This ground rise abruptly from the city and then falls back to form a high rolling plateau, broken by the deep valleys of the Divette, the Trotebec, and their tributaries.
German Defenses in the Hilly North
It was country ideal for the defense of Cherbourg and the enemy had taken full advantage of it. On a rough semicircle, from four to six miles out from the port, the Germans had constructed a belt of fortifications varying in depth and type (Maps XIII and XIV). Always on commanding ground, these fortifications covered all approaches. Defensive lines were often tied in with streams which served as obstacles to tanks and self-propelled weapons. Where natural barriers did not form a continuous obstacle they were supplemented by ditches, and roads were blocked with steel gates or bars. Along the 4th Division front the enemy positions generally followed the northern edge of the Bois de Roudou and the western edge of the Bois du Coudray. In the 79th Division zone, the defenses were concentrated astride the main highway on the high ground between the upper reaches of the Trotebec and Douve. In front of the 9th Division, the German positions occupied, generally, the high ground from Sideville northwest to Ste. Croix-Hague, and then followed one of the ridges north through Branville, Greville, and Gruchy to the sea. The German "crust" of fortifications thus ran approximately as follows, from east to west: Cap Lévy-Maupertus-Bois du Coudray-Hill 178-the upper Trotebec-Hardinvast-Martinvast-Sideville-Hills 128 and 131 -Flottemanville-Hague-Ste. Croix-Hague-Branville-Gruchy.
The defenses were of various types. In some areas there were permanent structures of concrete, with machine-gun turrets and mortars, underground personnel shelters, and ammunition storage rooms. In other places the fortifications consisted mainly of trenches and ditches, sometimes enclosing CROSSBOW
(rocket bomb) sites, from which the Germans could fight delaying actions. Hedges were frequently cut to permit a better field of fire, and wire enclosed the fortified area. Within this ring of defensive works were many antiaircraft positions, and as the Americans approached the Cherbourg defenses the enemy made full use of these weapons for ground fire. Most German positions were clearly and accurately shown on the large-scale defense overprints issued to all commanders, but exact information on the strength of the enemy in these positions was lacking. Prisoners continually reported that their units had suffered complete disorganization. On the evening of 20 June, General Collins ordered all units to probe the enemy's main line of resistance during the night.
General Eddy had abandoned his original plan and once more altered the specific objectives of the 9th Division units. The 39th Infantry was now assigned a one on the right flank of the division, where it would relieve the 4th Cavalry with one battalion and develop enemy positions in the direction of Martinvast and in the valley of the Divette with strong patrols. The 4th Cavalry was to relieve the 3d Battalion, 60th Infantry, west of Ste. Croix-Hague and take over part of the 60th's original mission, reconnoitering the Cap de la Hague area and blocking enemy egress therefrom. The 3d Battalion, 60th Infantry, was to return to its regiment as reserve and both the 60th and 47th Infantry Regiments were to develop the enemy positions to the front.
The Corps Front on 21 June
The execution of these orders was begun during the night. The 3d Battalion, 39th Infantry, relieved the 4th Cavalry in the vicinity of les Flagues at about 0300, and the latter began relieving the 3d Battalion, 60th Infantry, on the opposite flank of the division about noon on 21 June. By evening the 4th Cavalry occupied a line along the road running through l'Epinette to the coast. All units pushed out strong reconnaissance. Patrols from the 60th Infantry found it difficult to move, for enemy artillery interdicted all routes of approach. The 2d Battalion patrols repeatedly failed to get into Ste. Croix-Hague. The regiment's whole position, in fact, was vulnerable, lying between three draws and facing German positions to the northeast.
Early on 21 June, the 3d Battalion of the 47th Infantry moved up between the 1st and 2d Battalions, opposite the enemy position at Boguenville. All units had been cautioned against getting into heavy fire fights. General Stroh directed that the 3d Battalion was simply to come up abreast of the other battalions and not engage the enemy. Before attacking, more exact intelligence was desired, particularly on enemy positions on Hill 171 (Bois du Mont du Roc). The day was therefore devoted to patrolling.
The 79th Division was similarly occupied in the center. As in the 9th Division area, the Germans reacted violently to the patrols, with both artillery and small-arms fire. During the day the 315th Infantry moved up to St. Martin-le Gréard. Here it came up against an enemy defense area which throughout the attack had been a kind of no-man's land. Responsibility for this sector had changed hands two or three times. The 9th Division had established road blocks to keep the enemy penned in his defensive area, but did not try to clean it out. That task now became the main preoccupation of the 315th Infantry of the 79th Division.
On the Corps right flank the 4th Division, unlike the 9th and 79th Divisions, had not run into the main enemy defense line the previous day, and some progress was made on 21 June. Reconnaissance during the night of 20-21 June and the following morning yielded no enemy contact. During the rapid march
northward on 20 June the 8th and 22d Infantry Regiments had a few brushes with outposts and received some artillery fire. The enemy delaying action, though light, was just sufficient to prevent the two regiments from developing the main German defense line before dark. General Barton ordered attacks by all three regiments on 21 June, the principal tasks being the capture of Hill 178, west of Rufosses, which the 8th Infantry had failed to take the day before, the development of the enemy's main line of resistance somewhere beyond the Bois du Coudray, and the cutting of the St. Pierre-Eglise-Cherbourg highway west of Gonneville. These missions were assigned as objectives to the 8th, 12th, and 22d Infantry Regiments, respectively (Maps XIII and XIV).
Hill 178 was north of the east-west road from Hameau Gallis to Delasse, and beyond the Bois de Roudou. Barring the 8th Infantry's advance from the south were the woods and enemy positions at the northwest tip of the woods. The approach from the east was protected by positions astride the intersection near la Bourdonnerie (Crossroads 148) and other positions farther north and to the left of the road. The defense overprints did not show exactly what type of positions these were. At the northwest tip of the Bois de Roudou and in the woods north of Crossroads 148 there were numerous huts and concrete structures, and evidence of felling of trees and construction activity had been noted. These were suspected to be buzz bomb sites. The position at Crossroads 148 not only controlled the road intersection but also acted as a buffer for the other positions. Colonel Van Fleet's plan was to have the 1st and 3d Battalions advance north through the woods, while the 2d Battalion would attack the position at Crossroads 148 from the east.
The 1st and 3d Battalions moved out at 1000. The 1st Battalion drove into the woods on the left and then worked northward along the trail on the west edge of the woods. The 3d Battalion, after cleaning out remnants of resistance at Rufosses with tanks of Company A, 70th Tank Battalion, also entered the woods, swinging north toward the Gallis- Delasse road. Both battalions met heavy fire from the concrete structure at the unfinished installation beyond the northwest tip of the woods and from the fortified barracks east of the position. Despite artillery support on the initial advance, the battalions were stopped a few hundred yards from their objective by heavy fire from enemy 88-mm. and antiaircraft guns.
In the meantime, after artillery and mortar preparations, the 2d Battalion attacked westward against Crossroads 148 and positions to the northwest. Company G shortly became pinned along the north-south road; but Company E went through north of Crossroads 148 and advanced several hundred yards beyond the road. It then discovered that it had passed by the enemy positions at the crossroads and was cut off. Movement became impossible, but something had to be done either to extricate Company E or help G forward.
The battalion commander decided to commit Company F from reserve with a platoon of tanks, organized on the pattern of the infantry-tank team which had proved effective in the Normandy fighting thus far when properly coordinated. The narrow front, however, compelled a bunching of infantry platoons behind the tanks deployed in line, and the tight formation limited freedom of maneuver. Nevertheless, the attack was successful. Tanks sprayed the hedgerows, which, being low at this spot, constituted no obstacle to the advance. The tanks moved cross country easily and the enemy seemed to disappear. Company G fell in behind Company F and the two came up abreast with Company E to reestablish a continuous battalion line. By evening contact was also established with the 3 d Battalion across the road to the south.
CROSSROADS 148, at la Bourdonnerie, looking west, along the axis of attack of the 2d Battalion, 8th Infantry, on 22-23 June. Taken in 1947, this photo still shows ruins of German construction activity in the wooded area on the right flank of the attack.
Later, however, it became apparent that the Germans were still in position at Crossroads 148. They began to harry the companies from the rear, ultimately cutting the supply route during the night. A reinforced platoon sent to clean out the enemy proved unequal to the task. When at dawn, 22 June, the Germans raided the 2d Battalion command post, Company F was ordered to clear out the bothersome crossroads position once and for all. While one platoon made a wide flanking move to the south, using the Bois de Roudou as concealment, and then moved up the draw through Rufosses for the attack on the crossroads, arrangements were made for a heavy concentration of mortar and cannon fire on the woods to the north where enemy troops were thought to be concentrated. At a given signal mortars and cannon massed their fires in an 8-minute concentration on the woods
and the maneuvering platoon attacked the crossroads, supported by the fire of another. When the firing ceased, white flags appeared and seventy-four Germans came out of the woods and surrendered. From them it was learned that more were holding out. The heavy fire was therefore repeated and one hundred more gave themselves up. When the wounded were brought in, the total count of prisoners reached nearly three hundred. The threat to the battalion's rear had been eliminated.
The 12th and 22d Infantry Regiments to the east attacked late on 21 June. The 12th's mission was to break through the enemy's outpost line and determine his main line of resistance. Like the 8th Infantry, it was confronted by a wood--the Bois du Coudray, which lies between the Saire and one of its tributaries. The mission was initially assigned to the 2d Battalion, which moved out at 1730 and contacted the enemy half an hour later. Resistance was light at first and the battalion moved easily through the wood. On the northwest edge of the wood it found the bridge blown and received mortar and small-arms fire heavy enough to halt the advance. The enemy held the rising ground west and north of the Saire. That evening the other two battalions entered the wood, but no attack was launched that day.
The 22d Infantry was ordered to advance straight north and seize Hill 158, a critical terrain point which dominated the surrounding countryside, including the heavily defended Maupertus airport to the east. The main east-west highway into Cherbourg ran across the hill, and the main purpose of the 22d's
BUZZ-BOMB INSTALLATIONS were overrun by all three divisions in the advance northward. This site, under construction in a wooded area where camouflage was easier, was uncovered by the 79th Division northwest of Valognes.
mission was to cut this highway. Possession of Hill 158 was a vital factor in the plan of isolating Cherbourg from the east; both the division and Corps commanders therefore attached great importance to the winning of this objective.
In the advance from le Theil, the 1st and 3d Battalions, supported by Company B, 70th Tank Battalion, move out abreast at 1600 behind an artillery preparation. Four hours later they were ordered to dig in on favorable ground north of Pinabel. But since the 3d Battalion began to receive fire from enemy antiaircraft guns, both battalions were ordered to keep moving. The 1st Battalion could not advance in the face of heavy artillery fire, but the 3d pushed forward 500 yards to reach the objective.
The battalions had hardly reached their new positions when large but apparently unorganized German forces began to infiltrate across their rear from defensive positions around Gonneville. For the next four days and nights the enemy interrupted communications and supply. All resupply convoys had to be escorted by tanks to get through. Even then it was touch and go. A convoy for the 1st Battalion on the morning of 22 June was hit by artillery and machine-gun fire and turned back with heavy casualties. Another convoy took a wrong turn and was ambushed in a narrow trail, losing two light tanks, three half-tracks, three 57-mm. antitank guns, and several jeeps.
The date 21 June marks the end of the first phase in the drive for Cherbourg. The 9th and 79th Divisions, after running into strong German resistance on 20 June, further developed the German positions on 21 June to determine more accurately the main enemy line. The 4th Division, encountering its first heavy opposition in the upper peninsula, established the enemy's main line of resistance, which ran generally from Hill 178 to the northwest edge of the Bois du Coudray and thence to Hill 158. The line took advantage of the commanding ground near the upper reaches of the Trotebec and Saire Rivers. Strong points were situated along the forward slopes. Pressed against this enemy line, the 4th Division, like the 9th and the 79th in their respective sectors, was now ready for the final phase of the assault on Fortress Cherbourg.
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