Division headquarters after action reports
4th (US) Infantry Division
Battle of Normandy – June 1944
Headquarters, 4th Infantry Division
Utah Beach – The Landing
At approximately 0745 (H plus 75 minutes) the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry (initially attached to the 8th Infantry), touched down on Utah Beach and moved north along the coast to reduce beach strong points. The 3d Battalion of the 8th Infantry landed in the same waves and moved inland across Exit 2. Four battalions of infantry had thus landed by 0800. Two more came in at about 1000-the 1st Battalion, 22d Infantry, on the northern beach and the 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, on the southern. According to plan these two battalions were to march inland through Exit 4. Since the eastern end of this exit was still covered by enemy fire and the causeways to the south were already congested, some of the 22d Infantry’s units were compelled to wade two miles through the inundations. Elements of the 12th Infantry, which landed shortly after noon, also waded through the flooded area. The water was generally only waist-deep, but the area was full of ditches and holes, and men frequently dropped into water over their heads. Since the 22d Infantry’s objective lay to the northwest in the direction of St. Germain-de-Varreville, it had to cross the Exit 3 road and wade through the swamps. In doing so it found itself crossing rear elements of the 8th Infantry moving west on the road.
The other two regiments of the 4th Division did not reach their D-Day objectives. After wading through the inundated area, the 12th Infantry came up on the left of the 502d Parachute Infantry south of Beuzeville- au-Plain, and remained there for the night. The 1st and 2d Battalions, 22d Infantry, which also had to wade inland through the swamps and spend about seven hours in the marsh, reached dry land in the vicinity of St. Martin-de-Varreville and moved on to St. Germain-de-Varreville, where they bivouacked for the night. The 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry, as already noted, was assigned the task of reducing enemy beach strong points. The battalion moved north past les Dunes de Varreville and the Exit 4 road and reached the southern edge of Hamel de Cruttes by nightfall.
The Landing in Retrospect
The relative ease with which the assault on Utah Beach was accomplished was surprising even to the attackers, and gave the lie to the touted impregnability of the Atlantic Wall. The 4th Division’s losses for D Day were astonishingly low. The 8th and 22d Infantry Regiments, which landed before noon, suffered a total of 118 casualties on D Day, 12 of them fatalities. The division as a whole suffered only 197 casualties during the day, and these included 60 men missing through the loss (at sea) of part of Battery B, 29th Field Artillery Battalion. Not less noteworthy than the small losses was the speed of the landings. With the exception of one field artillery battalion (the 20th) the entire 4th Division had landed in the first fifteen hours. In addition there came ashore one battalion of the 359th Infantry, the 65th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, the 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion, the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion (less two companies), the 70th and 746th Tank Battalions, components of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade which had begun organizing the beach for the build-up, seaborne elements of the airborne divisions, and many smaller units. A total of over 20,000 troops and 1,700 vehicles reached Utah Beach by the end of 6 June.
The 4th Division extended the northern arc of the beachhead some two miles on D plus 1 in its advance toward its D-Day objectives, and pushed the enemy back against his main headland fortresses at Azeville and Crisbecq.
On the beach the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry, continued the methodical destruction of beach defenses. The 12th Infantry had come up on the left of the 502d Parachute Infantry late on D Day, just south of Beuzeville-au-Plain. On 7 June it attacked northwestward toward the high ground crossed by the Ste. Mere-Eglise-Montebourg highway north of Neuville-au-Plain. The 1st Battalion took a strong point southwest of Beuzeville-au-Plain; the 2d Battalion fought a sharp engagement on the eastern outskirts of Neuville-au-Plain, but did not take possession of the town, thus necessitating its capture by other units later in the day. In the middle of the morning the two battalions pressed their attack northward. Early in the afternoon they were stopped on the forward slopes of the hills between Azeville and le Bisson, where they reorganized for the night. The gap between the 12th Infantry’s left flank and the 8th Infantry was covered by guns of Company A, 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
Probably the most difficult of the 4th Division’s missions were those assigned the 22d Infantry on the division’s right flank. The regiment had the task of reducing both the strongpoints along the beaches and the heavily fortified headland batteries two to three miles inland and west of the inundations. On D plus 1 the first attacks against the enemy’s inland positions were made by the 1st and 2d Battalions.
The two battalions had spent most of D Day moving across the inundated area, but had come through almost without losses. From their positions at St. Germain-de-Varreville, where they had relieved the 502d Parachute Infantry, they started out at 0700 on 7 June, with the 1st Battalion on the right advancing astride the highway which runs parallel to the coastline, and the 2d Battalion using the trails to the west. They moved rapidly until they approached the higher ground between Azeville and de Dodainville, where they received fire from the forts of Crisbecq and Azeville. The 1st Battalion pushed on to enter St. Marcouf.
The two battalions now faced the enemy’s two most powerful coastal forts. With their heavy guns (the Crisbecq guns were 210-mm.) these forts threatened the beaches as well as shipping and stood as the last serious barrier before the regiment’s D-Day objectives. Each position consisted of four massive concrete blockhouses in a line; they were supplied with underground ammunition storage dumps, interconnected by communication trenches, and protected against ground attack by automatic weapons and wire. An arc of concrete sniper pillboxes outposted the southern approaches to Azeville. Crisbecq mounted the larger guns and occupied a more commanding position on the headland overlooking the beaches.
Immediate attacks were launched against both forts. The 2d Battalion tried for several hours to move forward against the Azeville position, but a counterattack drove it back to its line of departure with considerable losses. The 1st Battalion attack on Crisbecq was even more fiercely contested. As the battalion passed through St. Marcouf, it received heavy artillery fire from the Azeville battery to the southwest. Company C was organized into assault sections, in the same manner as the units had been organized for the assault on the beach on D Day. It was ordered to move up a narrow trail, along with the two other rifle companies of the battalion, to blow the blockhouses. This was the only approach the battalion could make, for to the east the ground dropped off to the town of Crisbecq and the swampland, and to the west the ground was high and open. As the three companies moved forward they suffered heavy casualties from shell fire. They inched ahead, up the thickly hedged trails, but as they reached the trail block and the wire obstacles on the perimeter of the position the Germans counterattacked their left flank.
To contain the counterattack the 3d Platoon of Company B was moved behind Company A to the left. In the fields northwest of St. Marcouf it met a strong enemy force supported by at least one tank. Capt. Tom Shields of Company A, who took command of the battalion when its commanding officer was wounded, decided that the position was too dangerous to hold and at 1600 he ordered a withdrawal. The battalion became increasingly disorganized as it retreated, still under heavy fire. Nineteen men of Company A were cut off on the left and probably captured. Another platoon on the right lost its way and wandered as far as the beach, which was still in enemy hands. Late that night these men found their way to the battalion, bringing with them 113 prisoners. The battalion withdrew to a line 300 yards south of de Dodainville. After dark the Germans counterattacked again but were routed by accurate naval fire.
On the extreme right flank of the 22d Infantry, separated from the rest of the regiment by the inundations, the 3d Battalion meanwhile proceeded against the string of beach fortifications which extended all the way up the coast. Those which posed an immediate danger to the Utah landings lay between les Dunes de Varreville and Quineville, on the narrow strip of land between the sea and the inundations, and could be approached only by movement along the sea wall. The strong points were reinforced concrete blockhouses, armed with artillery pieces and turreted machine guns. Most of them had the additional protection of wire, ditches, mines, and outlying infantry pillboxes and had communication with supporting inland batteries by underground telephone cable.
The 3d Battalion (Lt. Col. Arthur S. Teague) had been constituted as a task force with the mission of reducing these beach fortifications. The method of attack followed the pattern taught at the Assault Training Center in England. Naval gunfire adjusted by the Naval Shore Fire Control Party laid down a preparation. Then tanks and 57-mm. anti-tank guns approached within 75 to 100 yards of the fort to fire point-blank, while infantrymen moved, often through waist-deep water, to the rear of the strong point under the cover of mortar fire. The enemy, however, would allow the men to come near the fort before opening up with small- arms fire, and in addition subjected the assaulting troops to artillery fire from inland batteries. The reduction of the forts thus turned out to be slow and costly.
On D Day the 3d Battalion had advanced 2,000 yards beyond Exit 3 and destroyed one fort. On D plus 1 it advanced another 2,000 yards and captured two more. As it faced the fort at Hamel de Cruttes on the evening of 7 June, it received orders to move inland as regimental reserve, since a counterattack was feared against the shattered 1st and 2d Battalions of the 22d Infantry. Colonel Teague left Company K, supported by the chemical mortar company, a machine gun platoon, an antitank platoon, and one-half of the NSFCP, to contain the strong point, and moved the remainder of the battalion inland to the vicinity of Ravenoville. That same evening, in the one gain of the day for the 22d Infantry, the battalion recrossed the inundation to capture the beach fort at Taret de Ravenoville. The fort had been shelled by the Navy, and a number of Germans had slipped out to surrender. One of them reported that many of the Germans still inside the fort wished to surrender but until this time had been prevented from doing so by their officers. On the strength of this information Colonel Teague obtained permission to move the bulk of his battalion from Ravenoville northeast across the inundated area and close in on the rear of the fort. A prisoner who was sent ahead returned with the entire garrison of eighty- two Germans. Colonel Teague and his men billeted themselves in the fort for the night. Between Taret de Ravenoville and Company K to the south three enemy strong points still held out. One of these surrendered the following day
Progress had been especially difficult in the 22d Infantry sector. There, along the beach and at the headland fortifications, the enemy offered stubborn resistance. After the costly failure of the attacks on Crisbecq and Azeville on 7 June, the regimental commander, Col. Hervey A. Tribolet, waited for the 3d Battalion (minus Company K) to assemble west of the inundated area near Ravenoville as a reserve force, before he renewed the push northward. During the night, however, the 3d Battalion moved across the inundation to accept the surrender of Taret de Ravenoville. Company K, reinforced by 4.2-inch mortars, antitank guns, heavy machine guns, and part of a NSFCP, continued to attack the beach fortifications farther to the south.
At 1000 on 8 June the 1st and 2d Battalions again attacked Azeville and Crisbecq (Map VIII). On the right the 1st Battalion drove the enemy out of St. Marcouf, which he had reoccupied during the night, and advanced on Crisbecq. As on 7 June, Companies A and B led the attack, with Company C organized for assault and prepared to pass through the center. At 1330 a 20-minute preparation of naval and field artillery and mortar fire began to pound Crisbecq; it gave way to a rolling barrage which the infantry followed at 200 yards. Company D provided overhead fire with heavy machine guns. The advance and the fires were effectively coordinated, permitting the battalion to reach the edge of the fortifications with few losses. Companies A and B took positions on the flanks while Company C advanced through the center and blew several emplacements with pole charges.
The battle then developed in the same way as it had on the previous day. The assault sections exhausted their explosives without destroying the main enemy fortifications and became engaged in close-in fighting with the Germans in the trenches. The whole battalion was shelled by Nebelwerfers and by the guns at Crisbecq and farther inland, and its left flank was again counterattacked. As the pressure mounted on the left, the battalion fell back under cover of smoke, as it had on the previous day, to the orchard north of Bas Village de Dodainville. On first check the battalion showed less than half strength, but during the night a large number of men, separated in the course of the fighting, found their way back to the line which the battalion had organized. At Azeville, the 2d Battalion had also repeated its experience of 7 June when it had been driven back by a counterattack.
On 9 June the Azeville mission was assigned to the 3d Battalion (less Company K), which had again moved inland from Taret de Rave-noville. The plan to take Crisbecq was temporarily abandoned, although naval and artillery fire continued to neutralize its batteries. The fort at Azeville, roughly circular, encompassed the east edge of the village. It consisted of four large concrete blockhouses camouflaged as buildings, which were armed with 105-mm. guns and turreted machine guns, and interconnected by covered trenches. The southern approach was protected by small outlying pillboxes and mine fields, and the entire area was surrounded by varying widths of barbed wire entanglements. The roads in the vicinity were blocked.
The 3d Battalion assembled about 1,000 yards southeast of Azeville, and at 1100 it crossed to the draw southwest of the village. Company L moved farther west in a wide arc in order to enter the village from the west and capture any reserves the enemy might have to the rear of the fort. Company I organized into five assault sections, moved north inside the arc of Company L, and advanced up the draw and through the fields to approach the fort from its right rear. The 44th Field Artillery Battalion fired 1,500 rounds in preparation for the attack. The company started out with the support of tanks, but mines held up all except one of them. At noon Company I came in sight of the first outlying pillbox. The men did not attempt to lift the mines, but after cutting the wire they picked their way through the fields and orchards. They buttoned up pillboxes with rifle fire and then blew them. Enemy return fire was not heavy. The Germans had neglected to clear good fields of fire and to cover the approach from the southwest. Company I concentrated on the nearest blockhouse. First bazookas and the lone tank opened fire from behind a hedgerow, but accomplished little more than to chip the concrete. An assault team was then sent in to blow the rear entrance, which was recessed in the blockhouse and out of reach of direct fire. The team worked its way to its objective, emptied its flame thrower, and set off a pack charge. But this had no effect, nor did a second attempt, nor a third with a still heavier satchel charge. In a last effort Capt. Joseph T. Samuels, commanding Company I, sent Pvt. Ralph G. Riley to the blockhouse with the last flame thrower to “give it a few more squirts.” With the flame thrower on his back, Private Riley ran seventy-five yards under fire and dropped into a shell hole for cover. The flame thrower would not work, and he tried to think of the proper “immediate action.” He opened the valve, held a lighted match to the nozzle, and trained the stream of fire on the base of the door. At just this time enemy artillery fire from Crisbecq began to come in and Captain Samuels thought the attack had failed. Suddenly Private Riley heard a popping sound, different from the sound of the rifle fire around him. It was soon followed by explosions within the blockhouse. The enemy’s ammunition had been fired by those “few more squirts” of the flame thrower. Soon a white flag was raised and, after the firing had ceased, the rear door of the blockhouse swung open to let out an American parachute officer followed by two Germans. The German commander surrendered all 4 forts with their garrison of 169 men.
Shortly after Azeville was captured in mid-afternoon, 9 June, General Barton issued an order creating a task force which that same day was to bypass Crisbecq and the other German strong points along the coastal headlands and swing northeast to “capture Quineville and the high ground west thereof.” Quineville was the eastern anchor of the German defenses. The task force, which was to have first priority on division fires, consisted of the 22d Infantry, the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalions and the 746th Tank Battalion (less detachments); it was commanded by Brig. Gen. Henry A. Barber. Led by tanks, the 22d Infantry was to advance in a column of battalions (3d, 2d, 1st) on Ozeville, its first objective. Crisbecq was to be contained by a force of tank destroyers and infantry and was to be neutralized by division artillery at the time of the attack. The containing force, commanded by Maj. Huston M. Betty, consisted ofCompany C, 22d Infantry; Company C, 4th Engineer Combat Battalion; Company C, 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
The task force moved out at 1630, but it was stopped by fire from strong enemy positions at the crossroads west of Chateau de Fontenay and forced to dig in for the night. For three days (10-12 June) the task force struggled with little success to overcome the enemy resistance, its right flank exposed to the bypassed enemy strong points at Crisbecq, Dangueville, Chateau de Fontenay, and Fontenay-sur-Mer and its left flank to the German positions in the gap of about a mile and a half that separated the 22d and 12th Infantry Regiments. The task force lacked sufficient strength to protect both of its flanks and at the same time push ahead. Unfavorable weather denied it air support.
On 10 June the 3d Battalion, supported by tanks, launched two frontal attacks on Ozeville which carried it up the rising ground to within a few hundred yards of the enemy entrenchments. But the battalion, consisting of only two companies, was too weak to gain the objective. Company K was still on the beach and Company L had lost 159 men since D Day. On the same day the 2d Battalion attacked on the right in an effort to reduce the strong point at Chateau de Fontenay, but it was pinned down by grazing machine-gun fire. Ordered to withdraw to allow bombing of the enemy positions, the battalion became disorganized by the enemy fire, and seventy men east of the chateau were left stranded. Only one of these men returned-an aid man who was later found among the prisoners at Cherbourg. The air mission did not materialize.
On 11 June, General Barber planned to send the 1st and 3d Battalions into Ozeville from the west, after an air mission had softened the enemy positions. But he was forced to divert the 1st Battalion to the right to contain the enemy positions at Fontenay-sur-Mer and Dangueville. The 3d Battalion therefore attacked Ozeville alone, but again failed.
While the 2d and 3d Battalions suffered heavy losses in unsuccessful attacks on the chateau and the Ozeville strong point, the 1st Battalion contained the enemy at Fontenay-sur-Mer and another force contained the Crisbecq fortification. Twice on 10 June this latter force pulled back for scheduled air missions which were canceled because of unfavorable weather. The only real progress during these days was made on the beach by Company K, which on 11 June captured two more strong points. For two days it had hammered at these positions. At last it learned from prisoners that the only effect of heavy American fire on the forts had been to force the garrison to shuttle through a tunnel from one part to the other. Company K therefore fired fifty rounds of 57-mm. on the first fort and then switched suddenly to put eighty rounds into the adjacent stronghold. Resistance ended in both forts, and ninety-three prisoners were taken.
On 12 June, General Collins ordered the 39th Infantry, 9th Division, which had landed on the previous day, to take over the reduction of the enemy strong points on the beaches and the coastal headlands. General Collins had two reasons for this move. He was determined to reduce the beach and headland fortifications from Taret de Ravenoville to Quineville, for they continued to shell Red Beach and threatened to slow down the unloading of supplies; and he wished to free the right flank of the 22d Infantry, in order that it might move on to Quineville. With this in view, the 1st Battalion of the 22d Infantry was released from its task of containing Fontenay-sur-Mer and Dangueville and ordered to rejoin the regiment for the drive northward.
Early on 12 June the 39th Infantry fanned out from its assembly area on its coastal missions (Map IX). The 2d Battalion pushed patrols to Crisbecq and, finding it abandoned, occupied it at 0820. Dangueville was occupied in mid-afternoon. Two companies were then sent eastward toward the beach. The 1st Battalion moved to St. Marcouf at noon and then sent three companies down the roads from St. Marcouf and Ravenoville to the beach. There the battalion reorganized and assaulted and captured the first pillbox north of Taret de Ravenoville, establishing contact with the 2d Battalion patrol below Fort St. Marcouf. The 3d Battalion meanwhile attacked through the 1st Battalion, 22d Infantry, drove the enemy back from Fontenay-sur-Mer, where he resisted stubbornly, and established outposts along the roads to the north and east.
The 22d Infantry was now free to make a concerted attack on Ozeville. It was to jump of at noon of 12 June. The air force was to bomb Ozeville at 1100, and the artillery (44th and 20th Field Artillery Battalions) was to fire on known enemy positions south of Ozeville from 1115 to 1130, then lift to Ozeville until 1200, after which fire was to be available on call. In addition to the organic weapons of the 22d Infantry, the attack was to be supported by two platoons of 81-mm. mortars and the Cannon Company of the 12th Infantry. The 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, on the left flank was to place mortar and antitank fire on the strong point from 1115 until 1200; and the 1st Battalion on the right flank was to support the attack with its tanks and cannon. Colonel Teague’s 3d Battalion in the center, which was to lead the attack, was to be supported by one company of chemical mortars (87th Chemical Mortar Battalion), a platoon of tanks (Company C, 70th Tank Battalion), and an extra platoon of antitank guns.
At 1005 General Barber notified Colonel Teague that the air mission was canceled, but that heavy artillery fire would be substituted. The preparatory fires were delivered and the attack jumped off on time. With the 2d Battalion covering the gap on the left flank and the 1st Battalion becoming heavily engaged in the vicinity of Fontenay-sur-Mer, the main assault was made by the 3d Battalion alone toward the southwest corner of the strong point.
The troops advanced behind overwhelming fire power. Even naval support was available, particularly on Quineville where German guns had opened up. Covered by Companies I and L on either side, two assault sections of Company K closed in on the Ozeville defenses. After a short but violent fight a white flag appeared on one of the positions. But as Lieutenant Dewhurst, a platoon leader, climbed up on a pillbox to stop the firing, he was cut down by German fire. The men of Company I suddenly fought with greater fury; they rushed into the emplacements with bayonets and grenades and wiped out a large part of the garrison.
Ozeville was captured and the last major barrier to an attack on Quineville was removed. On the same day, 12 June, the 39th Infantry cleared resistance from the 22d Infantry’s right flank, while on its left flank the 12th Infantry retook the ground east of Montebourg which had been relinquished the day before.
The 12th Infantry’s attack was launched at 1600, when the capture of Ozeville became assured. After an artillery preparation the 2d Battalion moved against its objective, the strong point built around two stone quarries near les Fieffes-Dancel (Map IX) . While tanks gave close fire support, Company E assaulted the position with rifles and hand grenades. An enemy counterattack from the northwest, threatening to check the assault, was thrown back, mainly by Company B which had been sent up from the 1st Battalion in reserve to reinforce the 2d Battalion. The 2d Battalion then completed the capture of the stone quarry position. The 3d Battalion on the left had, in the meantime, captured the height 1,000 yards to the west, and Company A had established an outpost northeast of Montebourg. The 12th Infantry was again extended in an exposed position.
So far no attempt had been made to seize the city of Montebourg. When the two regiments approached the city on 10 June, General Barton ordered them to stay out of it; his division was spread out over a wide front with few reserves and, expecting a counterattack, he wished to avoid street fighting. On 11 June the 4th Engineer Combat Battalion established road blocks on the highway south of Montebourg and covered the gap between the 8th and 12th Infantry Regiments. But on 12 June patrols reported that the town was only lightly held. At the same time the 4th Division’s burden had been lightened by the attachment of the 39th Infantry, and by the arrival of the rest of the 9th Division as Corps reserve. General Barton therefore notified Colonel Van Fleet that Montebourg was included in the 8th Infantry’s zone and should be seized and occupied that day if it could be done cheaply.
Colonel Van Fleet organized a battalion-size task force to attack Montebourg and placed it under the command of Lt. Col. Fred Steiner, his executive officer. The task force, composed of two rifle companies, a platoon each of engineers, heavy machine guns, anti-tank guns, 4.2-inch mortars and tank destroyers, a cannon company, and the 29th Field Artillery Battalion in direct support, moved out at 2100 and reached the edge of the town at dark. Although the German force inside the town was not believed to be large, approaches were well covered by automatic fire. One company, on the left, was forced to withdraw and reorganize, and Colonel Steiner decided to wait until morning to renew the attack. At 0700 on 13 June the task force moved out again, one company on either side of the highway. Upon reaching the stream on the very edge of the town, the tank destroyers decided not to venture farther because of the 88-mm. fire. General Barton then resolved against risking the loss of men in street fighting and ordered the force to take a position from which it could contain Montebourg. Small patrols were sent into the town to observe enemy activity.
The Capture of Quineville
Enemy possession of Montebourg technically exposed the left flank of the 22d Infantry’s attack toward Quineville. But the danger was not too great and General Barton hoped to gain Quineville and the ridge to the west on 13 June. However, neither the 39th Infantry nor the 22d Infantry was able to make sufficient progress. The 1st Battalion of the 39th attacked northward along the beach toward Fort St. Marcouf, aided by 2d Battalion mortars and four tank destroyers, but it made only small gains (Map IX). The 3d Battalion attacked east from Fontenay-sur-Mer to the edge of the swamp and then north, with the intention of clearing the balance of the regimental zone south of the Quineville-Montebourg highway and along the north edge of the inundation. But it was held up by both friendly and enemy artillery fire falling on its forward elements.
The 22d Infantry reached the ridge but was unable to secure it or attack eastward to Quineville. The 2d Battalion made a wide swing through the 12th Infantry’s area to the Montebourg-Quineville highway east of les Fieffes-Dancel. The 3d Battalion moved north to the forward slope of the ridge and then was ordered to side-slip to the east in preparation for an attack in column down the ridge on Quineville. Colonel Teague extended one company to the right, passed the second across its rear farther to the right, and then passed the third behind the other two. This maneuver, made across ground dominated by the enemy positions on the ridge and harassed by heavy Nebelwerfer and artillery fire, resulted in a number of casualties.
In ordering the attack of 14 June, Regiment directed all three battalions of the 22d Infantry to secure the ridge and the two hills to the east as necessary preliminaries to the attack on Quineville. The 2d Battalion, with one company of 4.2-inch mortars attached (Company C, 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion), was to seize the crest of the ridge, on the left flank. The 1st Battalion, with the 70th Tank Battalion in direct support, was to seize the eastern nose of the ridge, which was fortified, and Hill 54A to the east. The 3d Battalion, aided by a company of chemical mortars (Company A, 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion), was to capture Hill 54B, the easternmost hill, and was then to turn right and attack Quineville. Preparatory fires were to be delivered for fifteen minutes on the fortified nose of the ridge, the two heights to the east, and a coastal battery farther east. South of the highway the 3d Battalion of the 39th Infantry was also to attack and come into position for a later coordinated attack on Quineville with the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry. The battalion was to be pinched out just south of the town.
At O915 on 14 June the 4th Division artillery began to fire concentrations on the four ridge targets. At 0930 a round of green smoke signaled the lifting of fires and the three battalions of the 22d Infantry jumped of. The fight lasted for over three hours. By 1300 the nose of the ridge and the two hills were occupied. Meanwhile the 3d Battalion, 39th Infantry, had also taken up the attack on the southern slopes of the ridge south of the highway, completing a 90-degree turn to the east just south of Hill 4B and advancing on Quineville with Company K in the lead. The attack on the town could now proceed as planned.
Before this plan was put into effect, however, the 39th Infantry received permission from Division to send its 3d Battalion independently against Quineville without the assistance of the 22d Infantry. At 1400 thirty-six A-2 0 ‘s carried out a bombardment of enemy positions at Quineville and it was desirable that this bombardment be followed as soon as possible by an infantry attack. At 1600 the 3d Battalion, 39th Infantry, moved out with Company K in the lead. Initially the company encountered little opposition and took sixty-eight prisoners. On the slopes just southwest of Quineville leading elements of the company successfully attacked a casemated 88-mm. gun and took the crew prisoner. At this time tanks of the 70th Tank Battalion, operating with the 39th Infantry, opened fire at long range on what appeared to be enemy vehicles on the right flank, and drew antitank fire. This movement on the right proved to be that of tank destroyers attached to the regiment’s 1st Battalion, which was fighting its way up the beach in the vicinity of St. Marcouf. The firing ceased after identification was established by flare and radio.
As Company K entered Quineville it received heavy mortar fire, but it went on to the first street intersection. There the 3d Platoon, which had been leading the attack, turned right and advanced toward the beach. In its path lay a tank ditch, extending to the mouth of the Sinope River on the north and to the swamps on the south. As the platoon proceeded down the street a small antitank gun opened fire from a pillbox on the beach, forcing lead elements of the platoon back and driving the rest to cover in ditches and buildings.
Meanwhile the 1st Platoon had pushed into the northeast part of town with the intention of cutting through to the beach. The Weapons Platoon emplaced its 60-mm. mortars south of town and rushed up light machine guns and one section of heavy machine guns from Company M through heavy enemy fire to join the 1st Platoon. The platoon and attached guns entered the northeast section and the machine guns were set up on the edge of town, looking out onto the beach and the river mouth where the enemy had fixed positions. But the men found themselves dangerously exposed and were forced to take cover after receiving numerous casualties when they attempted to advance in the open toward the beach fortifications. The 2d Platoon succeeded in clearing the western part of town with little opposition, for the enemy’s strength was concentrated on the east for the protection of the beach fortifications.
Aside from this minor success in the western part of town the attack at this point did not offer much hope of succeeding. Company I had suffered heavy casualties, including the 1st and 3d Platoon officers. The remainder of the battalion had been of little assistance. Company M’s heavy mortars had been emplaced earlier to cover only the original mission of the battalion and were now out of accurate range of Quineville; they were at this point moving forward over difficult terrain and mined trails, and communications with them were out. Companies I and L had halted under the last remaining cover about 400 yards southwest of town, alerted to take up the attack on either flank of Company K, but there was little room for their deployment except in the open and across wire entanglements flanking the town.
Before resuming the attack the 3d Battalion commander, Lt. Col. William P. Stumpf, requested artillery fire on enemy fortifications. Its purpose was to cover the reorganization of Company K and the approach of tanks of the 70th Tank Battalion which were waiting outside the town, and to soften the enemy fortifications. Following this fire Company K was to assault the enemy positions under the cover of smoke, supported by the tanks. Radio communication was difficult, but the requested fire was adjusted by relay through the 39th Infantry Cannon Company and was delivered by division artillery. The fire was not effective against the concrete fortifications, but did result in a temporary cessation of enemy mortar fire. Smoke was not available at this time. One tank reached the intersection, turned east, and immediately drew fire from the antitank gun on the beach and was damaged. The tank returned the fire, but faced with the antitank ditch and heavy mortar fire, it withdrew. Two other tanks then moved up to the intersection to support the infantry, but also retired due to the heavy mortar fire.
Colonel Stumpf, observing the very limited support which the tanks were able to give and losing hope of getting the requested smoke, decided to resume the attack with the forces at hand. Company L was ordered to lead the assault on Company K’s left. Company L had just moved out on the approach and was drawing mortar fire when a heavy concentration of smoke fell squarely on the enemy positions. Taking advantage of the long- awaited smoke, delivered by 4th Division artillery, Company K attacked immediately. As leading elements of the 1st and 3d Platoons reached the fortifications under the cover of the smoke, all enemy positions were suddenly surrendered, ending the fight for Quineville at 2130. Company K had lost twenty-eight wounded and five killed.
In the meantime the 1st Battalion of the 39th Infantry had continued its attack northward along the beach. During the day it suffered heavy casualties in crossing a mine field, but succeeded in taking Fort St. Marcouf. That night it made contact with patrols from the 3d Battalion. Thus, by the capture of Quineville and the ridge on 14 June, the enemy’s main line in the north was broken, depriving him of his best natural defense against the advancing northern flank.
The Drive on Cherbourg – The First Day
During the four days prior to the jump-off for Cherbourg on 19 June the enemy opposite the 4th Division had time to prepare defenses, especially in the Montebourg area. After the capture of Quineville 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 Quineville 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.
For the attack of 19 June, General Barton planned to use the 8th and 12th Infantry Regiments abreast, one on either side of Montebourg. 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.
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.
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 Quineville 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. 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.
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.
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 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.
At 1240 the pre-H-Hour bombing and strafing attacks were initiated by four squadrons of rocket-firing Typhoons, followed by six squadrons of Mustangs, all from the 2d Tactical Air Force (RAF). At approximately 1300 the attacks were taken over by twelve groups of fighter-bombers of the Ninth Air Force. For fifty-five minutes P-47’s, P-38’s, and P-51’s (562 planes) bombed and strafed front-line strong points at low level, one group coming over approximately every five minutes. Between 1300 and 1330, the 47th, 60th, and 22d Infantry Regiments all called their headquarters to say that they were being bombed and strafed by friendly planes, and sought means of stopping the attacks. These units and others suffered several casualties from the air attacks. The errors were believed to have been caused at least in part by the drift of the marking smoke in the fairly strong northeast wind. As the mediums began to come over at 1400 to bomb the German lines in front of the 9th and 79th Divisions, the attacking units jumped off; at 1430 the three regiments of the 4th Division joined the attack. Between 1400 and 1455 the eleven groups of light and medium bombers of the IX Bomber Command (387 planes) delivered their attacks on the eleven defended areas expected to give trouble in the drive on the city.
Measured by sheer physical destruction the bombardment was none too effective, except on a few targets. Its greatest effect was in cutting German communications and depressing enemy morale, but in general the bombing was scattered-as indicated by the drops to the rear of the American lines.
The Right Flank
The primary objective of the 4th Division was the Tourlaville area, guarding the eastern approaches to Cherbourg. Attention was focused on the 12th Infantry, which had this mission as the center regiment. The 8th Infantry was to be pinched out when it had seized the high ground east of la Glacerie. It would then support the 12th Infantry with fire. The 22d Infantry, also assigned a supporting mission, was to assist the 12th by protecting its right and rear.
To the east the situation in the 22d Infantry sector remained extremely fluid during 23 June. It had been planned that the 22d Infantry would assist the 12th in the advance on Tourlaville by clearing the fortified Digosville area on the latter’s right flank. But the 22d Infantry was so harassed from Maupertus and Gonneville that its combat strength was devoted mostly to dealing with enemy infiltrations and keeping its supply route open.
The 3d Battalion was to have led the attack on 22 June from its position on Hill 158, west of Gonneville, while the 1st Battalion held the hill and the 2d Battalion, in position to the south, prepared to come up later on the 3d Battalion’s left. Before the attack could start, however, the enemy enveloped Hill 18 and the 2d Battalion had to be committed in a mission to clear the Germans from the rear of the 3d Battalion. It was late afternoon by the time this task was completed. All three battalions were dug in on the hill for the night. The attack westward in support of the 12th Infantry therefore failed to materialize on 22 June. However, the 12th Infantry had itself failed to shake free from the Bois du Coudray for the planned attack northwestward.
In a situation that precluded bold plans, it was decided that on 23 June the 1st and 3d Battalions, 22d Infantry, should completely clear and consolidate the high ground before any further missions were undertaken. Beginning at about 0900 the 1st and 3d Battalions began to carry out this task, while the 2d Battalion sent a combat patrol south to clean up resistance north of Hameau Cauchon. To cover the mop-up operation, heavy artillery and mortar fire pounded the enemy line from Maupertus to Gonneville; part of the 24th Cavalry Squadron, together with Company B, 801st Tank Destroyer Battalion, and 4th Reconnaissance Troop, contained the enemy in the vicinity of the airfield; and tanks demonstrated toward Gonneville. Late in the day the consolidation of this ground had progressed far enough to free the 2d Battalion for an attack westward. The attack began at 1930, but before it reached the line of departure it was turned back by heavy fire from the German position southeast of Digosville. Once more the attack had to be postponed. Late that evening the battalion was attached to the 12th Infantry for the advance against Tourlaville.
On 24 June the 22d Infantry, with the exception of the 2d Battalion, protected the right flank of the Corps by containing the enemy cut off in the Maupertus-Gonneville area. Fragmentary German forces continued to infiltrate to the south of Hill 18 throughout this period. A complete mopping up of the airport region was indicated, but this was postponed for the present. General Barton limited the 22d Infantry to “policing” its positions and whatever action was necessary to maintain the security of the main supply rout south to le Theil.
The main effort of the 4th Division on 24 June was made in the center, where the 12th Infantry paced the advance on the division’s final objective, the fortified Tourlaville area. Several enemy positions lay in the path of the regiment. The strongest were known to be on a line westward from Digosville. Two battalions were to be used for the initial attack. On the right flank, the 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, attached to the 12th the night before, was assigned the Digosville objective and given the support of one company of the 3d Battalion, 12th Infantry. The 1st Battalion, which had come up on the 3d’s right during the night, was to attack roughly abreast of the 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, toward Tourlaville. The 3d Battalion was to remain on Hill 140, supporting the attack with fire. The 2d Battalion was held in reserve but prepared for commitment on the left.
Before the day was over all four battalions had been committed. The 1st, aided by six tanks of Company B, 70th Tank Battalion, advanced up a slope and overran an artillery position, taking many prisoners. During the mop-up and reorganization it received artillery fire from other enemy batteries and lost its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Merrill, who had assumed command only a day or two before.
Meanwhile, Company K of the 3d Battalion, also supported by tanks, moved east to join the 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, in attacking Digosville. The company advanced toward Digosville in an approach march formation and scouts came within 200 yards of the German emplacements before machine guns opened fire on them. The four tanks deployed, returned the fire, and then overran the first gun positions. As the main enemy body began to concentrate a heavy volume of automatic and rifle fire on Company K, the tanks provided a base of fire with both 75-mm. guns. Communications were poor and the attack was badly coordinated. The commander of the 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, received his orders from the 12th Infantry through 22d Infantry headquarters. To make matters worse, the two regiments used different reference numbers for the objectives.
At that point twelve P-47’s dive-bombed and strafed the German positions and, as soon as the last bombs fell, tanks and infantry closed in rapidly and destroyed the enemy in a short, sharp fight. A few Germans managed to withdraw, leaving six field pieces, several machine guns, and other materiel. When the 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, arrived, a general mop-up of the area yielded about 150 prisoners. While the 2d Battalion of the 22d and the 1st Battalion of the 12th cleaned out their areas, the 2d Battalion, 12th Infantry, moved up on the left and easily captured a large, concrete fortification, taking three hundred prisoners. By evening the 12th Infantry occupied the last high ground opposite Tourlaville.
General Barton decided to exploit these successes as far as possible. The 12th Infantry was ordered to move into Tourlaville that evening. The 3d Battalion, still in position at Hill 140, was to be used for this mission. Despite the approaching darkness, tanks were ordered to accompany the battalion, and, with many of the men riding the tanks, the 3d moved into Tourlaville unopposed. An all-around defense was organized and the tanks were released at 0200. The 12th Infantry had captured eight hundred prisoners during the day, in itself a fair indication of the disintegration of the enemy’s left.
The capture of Tourlaville did not end the 12th Infantry’s activity for that night. At 0300 Colonel Luckett, its commanding officer, ordered all four battalions to continue the attack still further. The 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry, was to move north from Digosville to the sea. The 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry, was to follow the road north, just east of a big coastal battery position. The 2d Battalion, 12th Infantry, was to clean out the Tourlaville area, assisted by the 3d.
While the 22nd held the right flank to prevent German forces from linking up with Cherbourg, the fortress was taken through hard fighting by the 9th and 79th Divisions, and German resistance ended on June 27.
For the Americans, 27 June marked the achievement of the first major objective of Operation NEPTUNE. In the final drive on Cherbourg some of the enemy forces had withdrawn to strong positions both east and west of the port city. On 26-27 June, while the final fighting was taking place in the city, the 22d Infantry pushed eastward and captured the last enemy strongholds in Cap Levy.