Carentan (Manche)

Normandy cities and towns in 1944

Liberation: June 12, 1944

Deployed units:

Drapeau américain 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division

Drapeau américain 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division

Drapeau américain 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division

Drapeau américain 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division

Drapeau américain Combat Command A, 2nd Armored Division

Drapeau américain 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Armored Division

Drapeau nazi Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6, 91. Infanterie Division

Drapeau nazi MG-Bataillon 17

Drapeau nazi SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 38, 17. SS Panzer-Division “Götz von Berlichingen”


Geographically speaking, Carentan is a key point in the south of the Cotentin, as it is here that the railway networks (especially the Paris-Cherbourg line) and roads between Calvados and Cotentin pass. In the event that the Douve bridges are destroyed or controlled by the enemy, the first crossing point between these two sectors is located in Carentan. If the priority of the Allies on D-Day is to ensure a solid bridgehead in the Cotentin, the capture of Carentan comes immediately after.

Carentan was bombed by the Allied Air Force on June 6, 1944 at 4:30 am: this raid is aimed more particularly at the bridges and the railways of the sector. In the evening of June 6, 1944, despite a bold German counter-attack from Carentan to Brucheville (which proved unsuccessful), the American paratroopers of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (101st Airborne Division) Several bridges on the Douve to the north of Carentan, except that of the national road 13. Until June 9, the paras are reorganized following the vagueness of the drops: at the same time they are responsible for securing all Passes on the Douve to ensure their freedom of action while the 4th American infantry division advances towards the west and the north of Cotentin. For their part, the Germans (also paratroopers) of the Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 (attached to the 91. Infantry Division) prepare the defense of Carentan.

The US plan, scheduled to be launched in the early hours of June 10, 1944, consists of a simultaneous triple assault: the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) and the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR) must make a sweeping movement to attack Carentan From the east the 502nd PIR must attack along National Road 13 from north to south while the 506th PIR is in charge of bypassing Carentan from the west and then attacking from the southwest.

After an important preparation of artillery, the paratroopers begin the progression shortly after midnight, Saturday June 10th. The third battalion of the 502nd PIR, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert G. Cole, recognizes National Road 13 to the south and is the subject of numerous enemy artillery fire since part of its route is Overlooks the marshes. His men are caught under the fire of an 88-mm piece at the second bridge which is to be repaired by the sappers. Meanwhile, Cole orders Lieutenant Ralph B. Gehauf, the battalion intelligence officer, to cross The Douve to recognize the axis. Supported by the artillery, the reconnaissance patrol manages to reach the fourth bridge which is obstructed by a Belgian gate. A breach is made, but only one soldier at a time can cross. Detected by the enemy, the patrol fell while shells exploded nearby and flares were fired: they joined the battalion at 5:30 in the morning. Lieutenant Gehauf reports that he has been taken to task from a farmhouse and from a large hedge about 400 meters south of the fourth bridge; He believes that the German defense relies on these buildings and vegetation to hold the area. From noon to 4 pm, the 3rd Battalion progressed to the fourth bridge under the constant fire of the German artillery. The paratroopers advance by crawling to avoid as much as possible the firings of machine guns, snipers and shrapnel: the losses are terrible at the end of the day. Suddenly, at 11:30 pm, a Junker 87 Stuka bomber appeared in the sky and dropped flares above the roadway: a second Stuka followed and strafed the area, killing nearly 30 soldiers. Company I led by Captain Ivan R. Hershner, Jr. is no longer able to fight due to its losses. On 10 June at midnight, the third battalion of the 502nd PIR lost more than two thirds of its troops. The roadway of National Road 13 north of Carentan is nicknamed the “Purple Heart Lane”: the Purple Heart Road (US Medal for the wounded in combat).

Meanwhile, the 327th GIR commanded by Colonel George S. Wear progressed to the northeast of Carentan and began with the 501st PIR the rotating movement that lasted all day on June 10th. The 1st and 2nd battalions of the 327th GIR stopped their advance and took positions on both sides of the national road 13 shortly before midnight, while the 3rd battalion (composed of soldiers belonging to the 1st battalion of the 401st GIR) And other of the channel of Carentan, at the gates of the town.

Shortly after midnight on Sunday, June 11th, the survivors of the 3rd Battalion of the 502nd PIR infiltrate through the breach on the fourth bridge and take foot on the next bank, companies H and G leading, while the harassment of the German shells Continues. At dawn, patrols are sent to the farmhouse identified by Lieutenant Gehauf as the German point of support: they are immediately fixed and destroyed by the German machine guns. Lieutenant-Colonel Cole is calling for fire support from the artillery, but US gunfire is unable to silence the enemy’s position, which continues to fix the American paratroopers: fixed at short range and unable to retreat, Cole n ‘ Has no choice but to mount the assault of the farmhouse and the hedge, 300 meters in front of him. After bayonets were fastened to the barrel and fired with smoke grenades, he used his whistle to attack the enemy positions: 20 paratroopers crossed the overturn, followed immediately by 50 others led by his deputy, Major John P Stopka. The Germans abandoned the Ingouf family farm and hid in trenches along the surrounding hedges where they were tracked by paratroopers. Fearing to be outnumbered, Cole (who is installing his command post in a farmhouse building) wants to be reinforced by Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick F. Cassidy’s 1st Battalion in support of the causeway. The fire of German mortars. He managed to reinforce the advanced elements of the 3rd battalion: Company C under the command of Captain Fred A. Hancock settled in defensive position in a square of cabbages on the left flank of the 3rd battalion, between the farm and the road. It is backed by company A which sets up a second line of defense immediately behind company C.

At midday, a two-hour truce was agreed by both sides to evacuate the wounded from the combat zone, but the shots resumed shortly thereafter and the Germans mounted several attacks on the positions of the 3rd battalion. It was during one of these terrible attacks that Lieutenant Melvin Morton Spruiell, at the head of a handful of paratroopers (D-Day, he is an advanced artillery observer in the 377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, Makes losses in frames and equipment, he finally serves as section chief), falls to the fire at the height of the square of cabbage. At 6:30 pm, one of these assaults pushed the parachutists back to the Douve River, forcing Cole to demand a barrage of fire almost on his own. This desperate choice resulted in a five-minute artillery fire causing the deaths of several of his men under the American shells, but which prevented the Germans from resuming the fourth bridge, which would have insulted companies A and C Remainder of the 502nd PIR. In the early evening, the German paratroopers of the Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6, exhausted, are short of ammunition. Major Friedrich-August Freiherr von der Heydte ordered his men to retreat south of Carentan in favor of the night, leaving only a rear guard in the commune to delay as much as possible the progress of the Americans. An ammunition parachute organized by the Luftwaffe on the night of 11 to 12 June, 11 kilometers south of Carentan, arrives too late. That same night, the first elements of the SS Panzer-Division Götz von Berlichingen (commanded by SS-Oberführer Werner Ostendorff) reached the southern edge of Carentan.

For its part, the 506th PIR commanded by Colonel Robert Sink progresses during the night in the direction of the southwest of Carentan. The second battalion, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert L. Strayer, was to reach the 30th mark, a land movement on the Périers road at the hamlet of La Billonnerie (which no longer exists today), about 500 meters from the center of Carentan, then attack the village by this same road. The hamlet of La Billonnerie is reached around 5 am on June 12th: the 1st battalion sets up in defensive while the 2nd battalion is placed in assault base facing the northeast. The 501st PIR has by its side bypassed Carentan by the south during the night and goes towards the coast 30 to install a cover on the road of Périers. At 6 o’clock in the morning, the 2nd battalion of the 506th PIR launched a simultaneous attack with the 3rd battalion of the 327th GIR (1 / 401st GIR). The Americans face sporadic resistance from the Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 rear guard, but their progress is slowed down by machine-gun fire and mortar shells. Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion of the 506th PIR engages in an intense battle to rescue its corps commander’s command post: Colonel Sink’s staff has in fact infiltrated behind the enemy lines during the night and Was encircled by the Germans. Paratroopers quickly manage to save their leaders. The 501st PIR, which is in the cover position from 6.30am, also gives a furious battle: the Germans try to overflow the positions of American paratroopers and to carry out their action they fix their opponents under intense fire. Lieutenant Robert R. Harrison of Company I infiltrates with two scouts along a hollow path and approaches only 25 meters from an enemy machine gun in shooting position: detected by the Germans, they remain under cover And Harrison asks for support from an artillery fire although he may be killed by American shells as well. His two scouts are wounded and the lieutenant puts them under cover one after the other before resuming his observation position: the barrage runs and the Germans retreat.

One hour and thirty minutes after the assault on Carentan, the 2/506th PIR and the 3/327th GIR made their junction in the center of the village and the laborious cleaning operations of the houses began. The locality of Carentan is released but it is not far from any danger. The 501st and 506th PIR were then deployed southwest of Carentan during the afternoon when they established contact with armored reinforced German paratroopers and infantry belonging to the 17. SS Panzer-Division. Allied aviation harassed the SS, who were obliged to bury themselves in order to protect themselves. They used their mortars and artillery to slow down the American advance until dark.

On Monday, June 13, 1944, at dawn, the Germans counter-attacked to resume Carentan and tried to break the American line: two battalions of the SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 37 attacked, supported by the 3rd battalion of the Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 and the SS-Panzer-Abteilung 17. The Americans suffer under the weight of this violent attack and the front line gradually recedes, especially on the flank held by the 501st PIR. The right flank held by the 506th PIR is also severely hit and companies D and F begin their withdrawal. Company E, commanded by Lieutenant Richard D. Winters and installed in defensive at the hamlet of Douville, near the railroad, holds good. The second battalion of the 502nd PIR immediately came to his support: this fierce resistance despite the violence of the German assault prevents the collapse of the American line which on its left flank is only 500 meters away from Carentan

The Americans deploy the Sherman tanks of Combat Command A of the 2nd Armored Division (belonging to the 66th Armored Regiment) under the orders of Brigadier General Rose in the direction of Carentan in the early afternoon in order to strengthen their positions, while the rain Falls on the Cotentin. The tanks are attacking at two o’clock, one part towards Beaupte and the other towards Périers. They are supported by the cannons of the 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, and allow to push the Germans about one kilometer beyond the front line site in the early morning. The tanks saved many paratroopers, sometimes encircled by Germans like those belonging to company F of the 502nd PIR. On the evening of June 13, 1944, after the battle that has since been called “Bloody Gulch”, the commune of Carentan is definitely out of reach of the Germans, despite irregular artillery fire during the days that follow.

On June 15, 1944, on the Place de la Republique, the corps heads of the regiments engaged in the Battle of Carentan, John Michaelis (502nd PIR), Jumpy Johnson (501st PIR), Bob Sink (506th PIR) And “Bud” Harper (327th / 401st) are decorated with the Silver Star at a takeover hosted by Brigadier General Maxwell Taylor. Another decorating ceremony is held on June 20th and again on June 23rd. It is during this period that the Germans carry out an artillery fire at Carentan: civilians and soldiers are affected by the shrapnel, the reports mention about fifty wounded. Danielle Laisney, a small 3-year-old Norman who attended the ceremony with her family, died a few minutes after being touched.

For his bayonet charge at Carentan, Colonel Cole is proposed to be decorated with the Medal of Honor, the US Congress Medal which is the highest military decoration in the United States. Nevertheless, he did not wear it, having been killed on 18 September 1944 in Holland during Operation Market Garden.

Photos of Carentan in 1944

Maps of Carentan :

Image : carte de la commune de Carentan

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