Battle of Carentan


Battle of Carentan

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Carentan
partof=Operation Overlord, Battle of Normandy


caption=Scheme of attack, Battle of Carentan
date=June 10 to June 14 1944
place=coord|49|18|18|N|1|14|58|W|type:city|name=Battle of Carentan|display=inline,title
Carentan, France
result=Allied victory
combatant1=flag|United States|1912
combatant2=flag|Nazi Germany|name=Germany
commander1=flagicon|United States|1912 Maxwell D. Taylor
flagicon|United States|1912 Anthony McAuliffe
flagicon|United States|1912 Maurice Rose
commander2=flagicon|Nazi Germany Friedrich von der Heydte
flagicon|Nazi Germany Werner Ostendorff
strength1=11 airborne infantry battalions
1 tank battalion
1 mechanized infantry battalion
strength2=2 parachute infantry battalions
2 Ost infantry battalions
2 panzergrenadier battalions
1 panzer battalion without tanks
casualties1=
casualties2=

The Battle of Carentan was an engagement in World War II between airborne forces of the United States Army and the German Wehrmacht during the Battle of Normandy. The battle took place between June 10 and June 14, 1944, on the approaches to and within the city of Carentan, France.

The objective of the attacking American forces was consolidation of the U.S. beachheads (Utah Beach and Omaha Beach) and establishment of a continuous defensive line against expected German counterattacks. The defending German force attempted to hold the city long enough to allow reinforcements en route from the south to arrive, prevent or delay the merging of the lodgments, and keep the U.S. First Army from launching an attack towards Lessay-Périers that would cut off the Cotentin Peninsula.

Carentan was defended by the 6th Parachute Regiment, two Ost battalions and remnants of other German forces. The 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, ordered to reinforce Carentan, was delayed by transport shortages and attacks by Allied aircraft. The attacking 101st Airborne Division, landed by parachute on June 6 as part of the American airborne landings in Normandy, was ordered to seize Carentan.

In the ensuing battle, the 101st forced passage across the causeway into Carentan on June 10 and June 11. A lack of ammunition forced the German forces to withdraw on June 12. The 17th SS PzG Division counter-attacked the 101st Airborne on June 13. Initially successful, its attack was thrown back by Combat Command A (CCA) of the U.S. 2nd Armored Division.

The role of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment during the battle was popularized by the Stephen Ambrose book and HBO television series "Band of Brothers". That of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment was made the basis of a pair of video games and their spin-offs: ' and '. Also in the strategy game "Company Of Heroes" as a playable campaign mission.

Background

Operation Overlord

On June 6, 1944, the Allies launched a massive and long-anticipated air and amphibious invasion of France, Operation Overlord. The 101st Airborne Division landed behind Utah Beach with the objective of blocking German reinforcements from attacking the flank of the U.S. VII Corps during its primary mission of seizing the port of Cherbourg.

Merging the American beachheads at Utah and Omaha Beach was a D-Day objective of the amphibious forces but was not achieved because of heavy German resistance at Omaha. Moreover, Allied intelligence believed that three German divisions were massing to drive a wedge between them. Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower inspected Omaha on June 7 and ordered a "concentrated effort" to make the linkup.

General Omar N. Bradley, senior American ground commander, ordered the original tactical plan be changed to make the top priority of U.S. operations the joining of the lodgments through Isigny and Carentan. VII Corps received the Carentan assignment and assigned the 101st Airborne Division, closest to the city, "the sole task of capturing Carentan."

Geography

Carentan is a port city located in Normandy, France, in the Douve River valley at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula. At the time of the Second World War, Carentan's civilian population was about four thousand. Four major highways and a railroad converged in the city, from Cherbourg to the northwest, Bayeux and Caen to the east, Saint-Lo to the southeast, and Coutances to the southwest. [cite book
author=John C. McManus
chapter=Carentan
title=The Americans at Normandy: The Summer of 1944--The American War from the Normandy Beaches to Falaise
editor=
publisher=Forge Books
id= ISBN 0765311992
year=2004| pages=
, 100-101.
]

The city is dominated by high ground to the southwest and southeast, all of which was under German control during the battle. Its other three approaches are bordered by watercourses: the Douve River to the west and north, a boat basin to the northeast, and the Vire-Taute Canal to the east. The Germans flooded much of the Douve River floodplain prior to the invasion, resulting in a marshland impassable to vehicles and difficult to cross by infantry, a tactic once used by Napolean Bonaparte at the same location. cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url = http://www.historynet.com/wars_conflicts/20_21_century/3421506.html| title = Battle to Control Carentan in World War II| format = | work = | publisher = History net.com| accessdate = 14 Jul| accessyear = 2007]

The highway from Saint Côme-du-Mont crossed the floodplain via a narrow 1 mile (2 km) long causeway having banks rising six to nine feet (2-3 m) above the marsh. Four bridges spanned the Douve and several tributaries along the causeway. Troops in the open under fire could find cover only by digging in on the sloping eastern bank of the causeway. In retreating from Saint Côme-du-Mont, the Germans had blown up Bridge No. 2 on the causeway and a portion of the railroad embankment as well. [Marshall, "Study No. 3", 65-70. The second bridge spanned the Douve, the deepest obstacle, while the other three bridged minor watercourses.]

Forces

Carentan was defended by two battalions of Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 6 (6th Parachute Regiment), commanded by Oberst Friedrich von der Heydte, and remnants of 91 Air Landing Division's Grenadier-Regiment 1058. Both had escaped from nearby Saint Côme-du-Mont on June 8 when the village was captured by the 101st Airborne. II./FJR6 and III./FJR6 (2nd and 3rd Battalions, 6th Parachute Regiment) were still intact as fighting formations, but III./GR1058 had been nearly destroyed in three days of combat and was no longer effective as a unit.

The German LXXXIV Corps (84.Korps) reinforced the 6th Parachute Regiment (FJR6) with two Ost battalions and a few survivors of Grenadier-Regiment 914 (German 352nd Infantry Division) following its June 9 defeat at Isigny. Army Group B commander Field Marshal Erwin Rommel ordered von der Heydte to defend the town "to the last man." Otl. von der Heydte positioned the third- and fourth-rate (by German definition) Ost battalions along the Vire-Taute Canal to defend to the east. II./FJR6 he placed across the Carentan end of the causeway, and III./FJR6 dug in to defend against an attack from the north.

The 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division stationed at Thouars, ostensibly a mechanized infantry division of the OKW Mobile Reserve but without tanks or adequate transport, was ordered on June 7 to move to Normandy following the Allied landings. However it was delayed by shortages of trucks and attacks by Allied aircraft that destroyed bridges over the Loire River and interdicted rail movements. Advance elements reached Angers on June 9 and Saint-Lo on June 10, by which time Rommel's main concern was in preventing an attack westward from Carentan to cut off the Cotentin. The 38th Panzergrenadier Regiment formed a mobile battle group to resist V Corps units south of Isigny, and the 37th PzG-Rgt was sent to Carentan.

The 101st Airborne Division consolidated its forces in Normandy on June 9. Its three parachute regiments (501st, 502nd, and 506th PIRs) had been badly scattered during their air drops, losing a significant number of men killed and missing as a result, and had suffered further casualties in taking Saint Côme-du-Mont. Its 327th Glider Infantry Regiment had landed at Utah Beach on D+1 (June 7) and except for its third battalion (the attached 1st Battalion, 401st GIR), had yet to engage in serious combat.

The 2nd Armored Division, part of the U.S. V Corps, had advanced off Omaha Beach to support the drive of the 175th Infantry Regiment (29th Division) to Isigny. Its Combat Command A (CCA), consisting of M4 Sherman tanks of the 2nd Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment and mechanized infantry of the 3rd Battalion, 41st Armored Infantry Regiment, was available as an armored force reserve for the 101st Airborne. cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url = http://www.3ad.com/history/wwll/memoirs.pages/marsh.pages/mustang.general.htm| title = The Mustang General| format = | work = | publisher = 3rd Armored Division.com| accessdate = 14 Jul| accessyear = 2007]

Battle

On June 9 the 101st finished consolidating, with the 502nd PIR guarding the right flank along the upper Douve River, the 506th PIR deployed across the Carentan highway, and the 327th GIR on the left in positions along the Douve River opposite Brévands. The 501st PIR was the division's reserve.

Patrols and aerial reconnaissance of Carentan indicated that the town might be lightly defended, and a plan to capture the city by a double envelopment was contrived, using the 502nd PIR on the right and the 327th GIR on the left, scheduled to jump off just after midnight June 10. Then 502nd's mission was to force the bridges and capture high ground southwest of the town along the Périers highway (Hill 30) to block withdrawal. The 327th was to cross the Douve at Brévands, circle a mile to the east, and come in on the road west from Isigny to take the town. cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url = http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/BOOKS/WWII/utah/utah5.htm| title = "Utah Beach to Cherbourg" "The Battle For Carentan (8-15 June)"| format = | work = | publisher = US Army Center for Military History| accessdate = 5 Jul| accessyear = 2007]

Purple Heart Lane, June 10

Leading the attack of the 502nd, the 3rd Battalion (3rd/502nd PIR) under Lt Col. Robert G. Cole found Bridge No. 2 (the Douve bridge) unrepaired and the engineers assigned to the task pinned down by fire from an 88mm gun. Cole sent his S-2, 1st Lt. Ralph B. Gehauf, with a patrol across the river in a small boat. They made their way to the last bridge, which they found blocked by a Belgian gate. The patrol was able to push the obstacle aside only 18 inches, just enough for one soldier at a time to negotiate. The patrol soon came under flare illumination, mortar, and machine gun fire and eventually returned at 05:30, when the attack was postponed. Most of the fire appeared to be coming from a large farmhouse (coord|49|18|44.6|N|1|15|37.2|W|type:landmark|display=inline|name=Farmhouse) and hedgerow on higher ground 250 yards to the right of the highway beyond Bridge No. 4. [http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/BOOKS/WWII/utah/maps/Map16.jpgMap]

At 01:45 1st/327th GIR began crossing the footbridges over the lower Douve, and by 06:00, under cover of artillery fires, the entire regiment was across. It captured Brévands and began the three-mile (5 km) movement south and west. Company A of the 401st GIR, accompanied by the Division Assistant G-3, left the column and marched east toward Auville-sur-le-Vey to link up with the U.S. 29th Infantry Division. The 327th did not encounter serious opposition until it approached the bridges spanning the Vire-Taute Canal east of Carentan at 18:00. It went into the attack with two battalions on line and by midnight held the east bank.

The Douve bridge was still not repaired when 3rd/502d PIR returned at noon. The paratroopers used engineer materials at hand to improvise a footbridge and began their attack shortly after 13:00. Moving single file down the causeway and advancing by crouching and crawling, the point of the 400-man battalion reached Bridge No. 4 at about 16:00, with most of the unit past Bridge No. 3. Under artillery and mortar fire, and then sniper and machine gun fire as they got within range, casualties among the 3rd/502nd PIR became heavy. Nightfall ended the advance but not the casualties, when an attack at 23:30 by two low-flying German Ju 87 Stukas strafing the causeway knocked "Item" Company completely out of the battle. The severe casualties suffered by the 3rd/502d PIR, estimated at 67% of the original force, [The battalion had 132 men available for duty out of 400 when it went into reserve on June 12] resulted in the nickname "Purple Heart Lane" applied to that portion of the Carentan-Sainte-Mère-Église highway. cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url = http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/agency/army/3-502in.htm| title = 3rd Battalion 502nd Infantry Regiment| format = | work = | publisher = Global Security.com| accessdate = 26 Jul| accessyear = 2007 The earliest reference to the name is an article by Cecil Carnes in the September 9, 1944, issue of "The Saturday Evening Post", "The Paratroopers of Purple Heart Lane".]

Cole's charge, June 11

During the night German fire subsided. Company H crept through the opening in the obstacle, and when it did not suffer any casualties, at 04:00 Company G and the Headquarters Company followed, taking cover on both sides of the highway. Scouts in the point nearly reached the main farmhouse in the morning twilight when they were cut down by German fire. Lt. Col. Cole immediately called for artillery support, but the German fire did not cease. At 06:15, using a smoke screen for concealment, Lt Col. Cole ordered his executive officer, Major John P. Stopka, to pass word to the battalion that it would have to charge the German positions to eliminate them.

Using a whistle to signal the attack, Cole led a bayonet charge that overwhelmed the defenders in savage close combat, for which Cole was later awarded the Medal of Honor. At first only a small portion of the battalion, approximately 20 men, charged, but Stopka quickly followed with 50 more. The attack picked up impetus as the other paratroopers observed it in progress and joined it, crossing a ditch. Overrunning the empty farmhouse, men of Company H found many German fallschirmjäger dug in along the hedgerow behind it. Companies H and G killed them with hand grenades and bayonets but at severe cost to themselves.

The survivors of 3rd/502d PIR set up defensive positions and requested 1st Battalion 502nd PIR continue the attack. Lt Col. Patrick F. Cassidy's battalion, however, also took serious casualties from mortar fire and could only strengthen Lt Col. Cole's defensive line, taking up positions from the 3rd Battalion command post in the farmhouse to the highway. During a 2-hour truce at mid-day in which U.S. forces attempted to negotiate for removal of casualties, Company C 502nd moved forward from Bridge No. 4 into a cabbage patch between the second and third hedgerows. Company A 502nd moved up just behind Company C and extended its line across the highway. Fighting at the cabbage patch during the afternoon often took place at extremely close range with the contending forces on opposite sides of the same hedgerow.

Except for the noon truce, which FJR6 also used to resupply and reorganize, the American forces repelled repeated attacks. The final one nearly succeeded in overwhelming the 3rd/502nd PIR at 1830, gaining all but the final hedgerow between it and the Douve River. However, Lt Col. Cole's artillery officer, able to overcome jamming of his radio, called down a concentration of VII Corps Artillery so close that several Americans were also killed. The overwhelming violence of the 5-minute barrage rolled back the last German counterattack.

Patrols from the 327th had discovered a partially destroyed footbridge over the Vire-Taute Canal at the point where it connected with the Douve, northeast of the city. The bridge was repaired by 10:00, and a company each of the 2nd and 3rd battalions crossed and attacked down the forested banks of the boat basin (Bassin à Flot), but like the 502nd, were stopped a half mile (1 km) short of Carentan by machine gun and mortar fires that artillery could not suppress.

FJR6, nearly out of ammunition, withdrew during the night, leaving only a small rear guard. A Luftwaffe parachute resupply drop that night seven miles (11 km) to the southwest arrived too late to help. cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url = http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/wwii/7-4/7-4_9.htm | title = "Cross-Channel Attack" Chapter 9| format = | work = | publisher = US Army Center For Military History| accessdate =5 Jul| accessyear = 2007The name of the town was "Raids".] The 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division (Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Werner Ostendorff), on the road toward Carentan since D-Day, had been delayed by air attack and lack of fuel. By nightfall on June 11 only a few advanced elements had reached the division's assembly areas.

Carentan captured, June 12

To complete the capture of Carentan, Gen. Courtney Hodges of First Army created a task force under Gen. Anthony McAuliffe to coordinate the final assault. The mission to take Hill 30 was reassigned to the 506th PIR, the attack along the Bassin à Flot was renewed, and the 501st PIR was relieved of its defensive positions to circle behind the 327th GIR and approach Hill 30 from the east. The movements were covered by an all-night artillery bombardment of Carentan using naval gunfire, Corps artillery, 4.2-inch mortars, and tank destroyers that had joined the 327th GIR along the eastern canal. [http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/BOOKS/WWII/utah/maps/Map18.jpgMap]

Two battalions of the 506th moved down the Carentan causeway after dark, passed through the 2nd/502nd PIR at 02:00 on June 12, and marched cross country to Hill 30 (the village of la Billonnerie), which they captured by 05:00. The 1st Battalion took up defensive positions facing south across the highway, while the 2nd Battalion was ordered north to attack the city. The 501st PIR during the night moved into position behind the 327th Glider Infantry, crossed the canal, and reached Hill 30 by 06:30.

At 06:00 Carentan was attacked from the north by 1st/401st GIR and the south by 2nd/506th PIR. Both units encountered machine gun fire from the rear guard, but the 2nd/506th was also sporadically shelled by artillery to the south of Carentan. Despite this, both units swiftly cleaned out the rear guard in a short fight near the railroad station and met at 07:30 in the center of town. The 1st/506th PIR engaged in more serious combat south of town when it had to rescue Col. Sink's command post, surrounded because it had pushed too far towards the German lines in the dark.

In the afternoon both the 506th and 501st advanced southwest but after a mile were stopped by heavy contacts with new German units including a few tanks. The 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division had intended to counterattack to retake Carentan, but its assault guns were held up in the assembly areas by Allied air attacks. Instead infantry units dug in on higher ground below the city and battled the paratroopers until dark.

Bloody Gulch, June 13

At dawn on June 13, the 101st Airborne was about to attack the German line when it was attacked by tanks and assault guns. Two battalions of the 37th Panzergrenadier Regiment, supported by the 17th Panzer Battalion and III./FJR6, [17.PzAbt had not yet received any of its complement of Panzer IV tanks.] struck hard at the 501st PIR on the American left, which fell back under heavy pressure. The left flank companies (Dog and Fox Companies) of the 506th then gave way, and by noon the spearheads of the German attack were within 500 yards of Carentan. However, Company E of the 506th, commanded by 1st Lt. Richard D. Winters, anchored its right flank against a railroad embankment and held its position. Reinforced by the 2nd/502nd PIR taking position on its right, "Easy" Company slowed the German attack until American tanks could be brought up.

Reacting to an ULTRA warning of the size and threat of the counterattack, General Bradley diverted CCA U.S. 2nd Armored Division (commanded by Brig. Gen. Maurice Rose and near Isigny) to Carentan at 10:30. At 14:00 CCA attacked, supported by the self-propelled howitzers of the 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. One task force of tanks and mechanized infantry surged down the road to Baupte in the 2nd/506th's area and shattered the main German thrust. A second task force drove back German forces along the Périers highway, inflicting heavy losses in men and equipment. ["Utah Beach to Cherbourg" stated the Germans lost 500 troops in the attack. German records indicate 79 killed, 316 wounded, and 61 missing. U.S. casualties are not recorded, but the scope can be judged by the E/506 losses reported in "Band of Brothers" of 10 casualties on June 12 and 9 more on June 13.] CCA, followed by the 502nd PIR, then pushed west a mile beyond the original lines.

The counterattack became known anecdotally among the surviving paratroopers as the "Battle of Bloody Gulch". cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url = http://www.101airborneww2.com/unithistories.html| title = Overview of the 101st Airborne in World War II| format = | work = | publisher = Mark Bando| accessdate = 13 Jul| accessyear = 2007]

Other operations June 12-14

To the east of Carentan, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 327th GIR advanced to Mesnil on the afternoon of June 12, then attacked south as far Rouxeville and Montmartin-en-Graignes. [http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/BOOKS/WWII/utah/maps/Map18.jpgMap] The 2nd/327th GIR rescued a pocket of 29th Division troops that included its assistant division commander, Brig Gen. Norman D. Cota. On June 13 the 327th was ordered to pull back and dig in along a two-mile (3 km) front behind the railroad, anticipating a German attack that did not develop. [http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/BOOKS/WWII/utah/maps/Map19.jpgMap]

The next day the 502nd and 506th PIRs in their final attack in Normandy established a defensive line along the highway from Baupte to Auverville. Patrols from the 502nd made contact with the 82nd Airborne's 508th PIR in Baupte. On June 15 the 101st Airborne Division became part of the U.S. VIII Corps and maintained a defensive posture around Carentan until its relief June 27 by the U.S. 83rd Infantry Division. On June 30 the 101st Airborne relieved the 4th Division garrisoning Cherbourg, where it remained until its return to England by LST for replacements and training.

ee also

*Purple Heart Lane
*"Band of Brothers"

Notes

References

*cite book
author=John C. McManus
chapter=Carentan
title=The Americans at Normandy: The Summer of 1944--The American War from the Normandy Beaches to Falaise
editor=
publisher=Forge Books
id= ISBN 0765311992
year=2004| pages=
.Cite book
last = Ambrose
first = Stephen E.
author-link =
last2 =
first2 =
author2-link =
title = D-Day
place = New York
publisher = Simon & Schuster
year = 1994
volume =
edition = First
url =
doi =
id =
isbn = 0-684-80137-X

External links

* [http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/wwii/7-4/~MapVII-big.htm US Army map of area of operations] Large scale topographical map. Carentan and vicinity are in the lower right corner
* [http://www.3ad.com/history/wwll/memoirs.pages/marsh.pages/mustang.general.htm "The Mustang General" by Don R. Marsh] memoir article of BG Maurice Rose at Carentan by his biographer, a 2AD veteran
* [http://web.telia.com/~u18313395/normandy/index.html German Order of Battle] , a private site well-documented from German records of OB, strength, and casualties
* [http://www.6juin1944.com/assaut/aeropus/en_page.php?page=101 U.S. Airborne in Cotentin Peninsula / D-Day Etat des Lieux] . 101st Airborne Order of battle
* [http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/BOOKS/WWII/utah/utah5.htm "Utah Beach to Cherbourg", "The Battle for Carentan (8-15 June)"] .US Army history of the VII Corps attacks, published in 1948 and re-issued in 1990
* [http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/wwii/7-4/7-4_9.htm "Cross-Channel Attack", Chapter IX "The V Corps Lodgment" (7-18 june)] US Army history of the Normandy campaign published in 1951, and re-issued in 2002
* [http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/documents/wwii/506-nor/506-nor.htm Regimental Unit Study No. 3 "506th Parachute Infantry in Normandy Drop"] . an official history by S.L.A. Marshall and the basis for his book "Night Drop"
* [http://www.historynet.com/wars_conflicts/20_21_century/3421506.html "Battle to Control Carentan During World War II"] John C. McManus, History Net


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