The cities of Normandy during the 1944 battles
Liberation: June 15th, 1944
175th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division
120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division
743rd Tank Battalion, 30th Infantry Division
327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division
Grenadier-Regiment 914, 352. Infanterie-Division
Kampfgruppe Heinz, 275. Infanterie-Division
A month before the landing of June 6, 1944, the Germans have finalized the establishment of wooden poles (nicknamed “asparagus”) in the fields located near the town of Montmartin-en-Graignes, in accordance with the orders of Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel to fight against any attempt of allied assault by gliders. The area is under the responsibility of Grenadier-Regiment 914 (352. Infanterie-Division): the Germans have installed a 20 mm anti-aircraft gun north of the commune which aims to protect the railway bridge from the strike.
From June 8, the municipality of Montmartin-en-Graignes is bombed by the Allied artillery. Fighting is approaching and the Americans of the 29th Infantry Division seek to secure the banks of the Vire, whose stream separates the two departments of the Manche and Calvados. Understanding the maneuver, the Germans decide to neutralize the antiaircraft post of the strike at dawn of June 9, setting fire ammunition. On the same day at 18:00, they destroy the railway bridge with explosives.
After having seized Neuilly-la-Forêt on June 10th, the 175th Infantry Regiment (IR) of Colonel Paul R. Goode takes the direction of the Vire to the west and aims to seize the bridges on the Canal de la Vire and Taute, southwest of Montmartin, on the right flank of the 29th Infantry Division. This flanking action must ensure the protection of the division as it moves towards Saint-Lô against possible German intrusions from the west. This sector is particularly sensitive in that it is the border between the zones of action of Vth and VIIth US Corps: the Germans must not manage to infiltrate between the two units and then perform actions backhand .
From the 11th of June, 175th IR patrols were launched towards the hamlets north of Montmartin (in particular La Surveillerie and L’Enauderie) but were pushed back towards the Veys by newly arrived German troops on the Norman front: the first reinforcements Kampfgruppe Heinz (275. Infanterie-Division), from Brittany, have reached Montmartin since yesterday. Hungry, they seek in all the houses of the village of what to eat.
On June 12th, the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment (101st Airborne Division) from Saint-Hilaire-Petitville receives from General Taylor the mission of securing the crossings on the Vire and Taute canal, reaching in particular on the slight movement of land south of Montmartin. This sector is however located outside the geographical limits initially imposed on the division, being devolved to the 5th American Corps. Colonel Joseph H. Harper, commanding the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR), orders his men to begin the progression, parallel to the road connecting Saint-Hilaire-Petitville to Saint-Jean-de-Daye: in the morning, the Airborne soldiers begin the reconnaissance of Montmartin by the northwest, but they are violently attacked by German defenders at the level of the railway. The losses are particularly high in both camps and the attack is halted. Captain Ira E. Hamblin, commanding Company E of the 327th GIR, is killed in the fighting. Major Warren D. Stubblefield, Jr. (2nd Battalion Assistant Officer) and Lieutenant Willard C. Harrison (F Company Assistant Officer) died from their injuries. Shortly before the night, not having enough reports exploitable from his subordinates, Harper broke contact with his 1st battalion and repositioned near the hamlet of Enauderie. The 2nd Battalion was stopped near Rouxeville, about one kilometer to the west, but several of its airborne soldiers (starting with its leader, Colonel Thomas J. Rouzie) were ordered continue towards their goal, south of Montmartin-en-Graignes.
Simultaneously, C and E companies of the 175th IR began reconnaissance of Montmartin, this time from the northeast, each of them being reinforced by a section of 81 mm mortars and a section of heavy machine guns. Also suffering heavy losses, the infantry of company E break contact and fall back towards Neuilly-la-Forêt. Company C manages to cross and pass the village. It settles on the heights surrounding the hamlet of La Rayé which offers views in the depth south of Montmartin. Abbe Louis Provost, witness of the fighting, testifies: “the wounded dying and are completed by the German patrols. What was the fate of the thirty or so prisoners who marched, hands on their heads, all along the village, surrounded by Boche soldiers? “Arthur Marie, a 25-year-old Norman civilian living in the commune, was killed by a German gunman during the fighting. Marcel Roger, 17, dies the following night under the same conditions.
General Bradley (commanding the 1st Army) realizes that the limit of action zone between the 5th and 7th American corps must be reworked. It spreads a new geographical distribution of areas of responsibility: the area of Montmartin-en-Graignes definitely falls under the cross of the Fifth Corps. As a result, the airlifted soldiers line up north of the railway line. For Colonel Goode, the priority of the end of the day of June 12 is now to strengthen the position of company C which is isolated south of Montmartin. It is all the more worrying that Company C is accompanied by Brigadier General Norman D. Cota, second in command of the 29th Infantry Division. Goode himself takes command of the reinforcing element (which consists of Company G, reinforced by a mortar section and a section of machine guns) and starts at 22:00. The infantry reach the survivors of Company C and General Cota in the night.
The next day, June 13, Colonel Harper receives contradictory information about Montmartin: the staff of the 101st Airborne Division informs him that a German armored division (equipped with about 150 tanks) would have arrived in reinforcement and could possibly launch a counteroffensive. He also learned that General Cota would be in the commune, but not being aware of the presence of C and G 175th IR companies south of the village, he believes that General Cota is potentially captured by the Germans, or that he was killed there. Harper immediately alerts the gunners under his command and the naval fire support teams that accompany him and requests a neutralization shot on Montmartin-en-Graignes. Several naval shells fired by the USS Texas hit the village, without touching US positions further south. Meanwhile, the members of the 2nd battalion of the 327th GIR under Colonel Rouzie’s orders reached their target and discovered the soldiers of the 175th IR. Airlifted soldiers and infantrymen fight together against German patrols. They do not fall back to their respective lines until the afternoon of June 13, returning to their unit after dark.
On June 14, US forces reorganize and engage “fresh” units, with the shock of the first week of the landing heavily consuming the Allied combat potential. In the afternoon, the 327th GIR gives way to the 120th Infantry Regiment (30th Infantry Division), which must perform its baptism of fire by relaunching its action towards Saint-Jean-de-Daye. The 2nd Battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Bradford is in charge of capturing Montmartin, supported by the 1st Battalion and the gunners of the 230th Field Artillery Battalion. On June 15, beginning at four-thirty in the morning, the Americans begin the preparation of artillery which severely affects the village. Father Provost describes the situation: “We realize that this day will be the day of the decision. The village and its surroundings are literally watered by the American artillery. They are shelling shells, heavy caliber percussion, launched by the battleships that were in the bay of Veys, aerial torpedoes, bombs, nothing is missing. The boches are silent. Nested with their machine guns in holes, they will hold until the arrival of the American tanks.” The bombings cause important fires which darken the sky of smoke.
As of 8:00 am, the company E of the 120th IR begins its assault towards the hamlet of L’Enauderie, supported by the tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion. The Germans opposed a fierce resistance, relying on machine gun nests that they had time to value, but they can not fight against shells 75 mm M4 Sherman and are forced to break contact. The company G progresses on the right flank of the battalion and recognizes the Norman grove towards the south, also meeting a strong German resistance near the hamlet Déville, being caught under the fire of the machine guns and the artillery. The 3rd Battalion, on the right flank of the regiment, recognizes the axis Saint-Hilaire-Petitville – Saint-Jean-de-Daye which is undermined, forcing it to slow its progression. Believing that the momentum of his battalion was gradually breaking, Lieutenant-Colonel Bradford decided to engage his reserve company, Company F. The latter crossed the railway line and infiltrated by the west, reaching the German trenches of Montmartin then the center of the village from 12:35. Seven M4 Sherman tanks and a Sherman Bulldozer support the infantrymen closely. Father Provost remembers: “Finally, the bombings are gradually decreasing. The enemy sentinels disappeared one after the other. We hear the muffled movement of powerful engines. An imposing tank moves forward … There is no hesitation. They are the Liberators! God be blessed! Long live America ! Vive la France !“
Colonel Hammond Birks, commander of the 120th IR, sets up his command post at the village school, which continues to be targeted, this time by German artillery from the south of the Vire and Taute Canal. The 2nd battalion pursues its offensive until the banks of the Vire which it reaches around 22 hours. The 3rd battalion reached the locality of La Comte (hamlet of Briseval) at 5:20 pm after major fights that last until 19:00, and settled there before darkness. The 1st battalion, a reserved element, receives the order to infiltrate between the 2nd and 3rd battalions to position itself in front of La Rayé.
In the early hours of June 16, several American patrols are sent by night to the channel of Vire and Taute, and the hamlet of La Raye is finally under control of the company F (commanded by Captain Reynold C. Erickson) around 10:00 . At the end of the day, the bridges to cross the canal are under American control and German counter-attack attempts are repulsed by the artillery.
The Germans hold their defensive positions south of the canal until July 6, 1944, date of the resumption of the US offensive to the south. Several attempts to cross the canal by the 2nd battalion of the 120th IR abort, including June 17. The village of Montmartin-en-Graignes remains within reach of German artillery throughout this period, which continues to devastate the buildings. In total, 8 inhabitants of the commune and 400 head of cattle are killed during the liberation, 35 houses destroyed and 137 civilians must be relocated.
Map of Montmartin-en-Graignes: