Battles for Cherbourg
From D-Day + 13 to D-Day + 20: June 19th to June 26th, 1944
A deep water port
Supply plays a more than primordial role in times of war. It is as important as a soldier, because without it, no ammunition for weapons, no fuel for vehicles or no food for the men and women working in the war effort.
This is why the artificial ports of Arromanches and Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer were created, so that the Allies, even without having liberated large ports in deep water (thus allowing the docking of large ships) , can benefit from constant and high-speed refueling. But such artificial ports, although effective in the early hours of the battle, are insufficient in time: a strong storm destroyed the port of Saint-Laurent in the night of June 19 to 20, 1944 (Day D + 12 and + 13) and strongly damages that of Arromanches, remaining inoperative a few days, which postpones the operation Epsom in the region of Caen: 25 000 tonnes of ammunition were unloaded on June 18, the tonnage drops to 4 000 on June 20th.
|Channel storm between June 19 and June 20 destroying the artificial port of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer and damaging that of Arromanches. Photos: IWM|
The goal of the Allies, after that of establishing and consolidating a bridgehead in Normandy, is to seize the city of Cherbourg and in particular its deep-water port. That’s why Utah Beach is located in the Cotentin, south of Cherbourg, to accelerate the capture of this city.
The 19th American corps of General Corlett is set up in front of Saint-Lô between the 5th corps, landed at Omaha, and the 7th corps, landed at Utah. The latter, commanded by the fiery general “Lightning Joe” Collins (back from Guadalcanal), is dedicated to the liberation of Cherbourg. The means that are granted to him are very important and he receives the reinforcement of 30 battalions in just 12 days.
Most of the German armored divisions face the British divisions in Caen, and they thus clear the west front, in the Cotentin. This lack of tanks is beneficial to the 7th Corps Collins, but the advance of US troops is not easy: the troops progress by flea jumping and conquered the ground bunker by bunker, farm by farm, parcel of land per parcel of land and at the cost of very high losses.
|Fortification bombed and destroyed in the vicinity of Cherbourg. Photo: US National Archives|
The Americans first cut the Cotentin peninsula in two: the northern part, the southern part, piercing towards Portbail and Barneville on June 18th.
Then it is the ascent towards the north for the catch of Cherbourg: the city of Montebourg is released on June 19th while Valognes falls on June 20th.
The battle of Val-de-Saire
Leaving no respite to the German forces, he launched three divisions to the assault, without even taking the time to prepare the ground with a bombardment of artillery usual: the 4th US Infantry Division defeats the enemy troops taken by surprise.
Cherbourg, city entrenched, is reached on June 21st. The battle that begins is now called the Battle of Val-de-Saire.
|Battle for the capture of Cherbourg seen from the heights of the city. Photo: US National Archives|
The German commander of the Cherbourg garrison, Karl von Schlieben, organized the defense of the city. Despite a mediocre combat value, these units defend Cherbourg with tenacity. The 7th Corps demands the surrender of the encircled German troops, refused by von Schlieben. It is at this moment that the attack for the capture of Cherbourg begins.
|General Ira Wyche, commander of the 79th Infantry Division at Fort du Roule in Cherbourg. Photo: US National Archives|
After heavy fighting, all strengths of German resistance are eradicated from June 26 (although there are still some defenders) and knowing the battle lost, von Schlieben goes with Admiral Hennecke, and 37 000 men.
|Column of German prisoners in Cherbourg. Photo: US National Archives|
Total control of the port and its arsenal, as well as the cessation of fighting in the north Cotentin is effective around July 1, 1944.
Immediately after the end of the fighting, a real race against the clock commits to restore the port facilities of Cherbourg, destroyed by the Germans but also by Allied bombing.
|German destructions in the port of Cherbourg. Photo: US National Archives|
It was not until July 17, 1944 that the first allied ship landed in the port of Cherbourg just renovated to unload its precious cargo.