Liberation of Colombières in 1944 during the Battle of Normandy

Colombières (Calvados)

The cities of Normandy during the 1944 battles

Liberation: June 9th, 1944

Deployed units:

Drapeau américain 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division

Drapeau américain 35th Infantry Division

Drapeau nazi Panzerjäger-Abteilung 352, 352. Infanterie-Division

Drapeau nazi IV/Artillerie-Regiment 352, 352. Infanterie-Division

History:

Before the landing, the Colombières Castle houses the command post of the 2nd company of the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 352 (352. Infanterie-Division).

On the night of June 7 to 8, 1944, German gunners belonging to the 4th battalion of the Artillerie-Regiment 352 (352. Infanterie-Division) fold up to Colombières after crossing the marshes of the valley of the Aure. At the same time, the US 29th Infantry Division is finalizing the initial D-Day targets south of Omaha Beach. The valley of Aure offers the Germans a relative protection, because of the presence of swamps considered difficult to cross. From the village of Longueville overlooking the valley, they set up on June 18 a base of artillery support and now seek to seize the village of Colombières to install a bridgehead south of the swamps. In preparation for the crossing of the valley, Colonel Eugene N. Slappey’s US 115th Infantry Regiment (IR) was reinforced with 50 M29 Weasel snowplanes.

Recognition patrols are conducted by the Americans to define axes of penetration to reach the south of the valley. On June 18, at 5:30 pm, one of them is led by Lieutenant Kermit C. Miller, chief of the 3rd platoon of the E company, 115th IR. Engaged in search of a route, Lieutenant Miller reaches the outskirts of Colombières after a long infiltration. The Germans, who underestimate the danger from the north because of the swamps, are not on their guard. Miller and his men catch three sentinels in their sleep and make them prisoners without a shot. They meet several people on the way who tell them the supposed position of the German command in the village: Miller makes the decision to try his luck, hoping to cause the anticipated installation of a bridgehead south of the Aure Valley.

The Americans encircle the home where the opposing command post would be located and order the occupants to surrender: an exchange of gunfire ensues. Alerted by the noise of the fighting, German motorized reinforcements arrive as and when and are immediately caught by the attackers. Germans seek to escape from the command post: they are shot down seconds later. Taking advantage of the general disorder, amplified by the darkness, Lieutenant Miller’s section manages to repulse his opponents and makes additional prisoners. A total of 19 German soldiers were killed and 3 Americans were wounded. The calm having returned to Colombières, the Americans report by radio to their company of their situation: the staff of the 115th IR does not want to risk to engage its troops in the night, but decides nonetheless to exploit this opportunity in alerting the 3rd battalion to make the crossing. Lieutenant Kermit C. Miller is ordered to break off contact and withdraw to Longueville. He turns back with his men and the German prisoners, abandoning Colombières.

At dawn on June 9, 1944, the 3rd battalion of the 115th IR, commanded by Major Victor P. Gillespie, began the slow recognition of the marsh, made particularly difficult by the presence of completely submerged drainage trenches. During the march, American soldiers sink their feet and sometimes their entire leg in black, sticky mud. The sappers lend a hand using DUKW amphibious vehicles and boat decks. The Americans reach Colombières in the early afternoon and recognize the whole area: the village was abandoned by the Germans who left behind the vehicles and bodies of their comrades killed by Miller’s section.

Despite the state of advanced tiredness of the soldiers, the Americans continue their progression towards the south towards La Folie.

Lieutenant Miller and several members of his heroic Patrouille de Colombières are killed in a German ambush in the Carrefour area (today Le Carrefour des Vignes aux Gendres) during the night of 9-10 June. Kermit C. Miller was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and is buried in the Colleville-sur-Mer military cemetery.

From July 7 to 9, 1944, the village of Colombières hosts the staff of the 35th Infantry Division (commanded by Major General Paul W. Baade).

Carte de Colombières :

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