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
After seizing Neuilly-la-Forêt on 10 June, Colonel Paul R. Goode’s 175th Infantry Regiment (IR) moved west towards the Vire River and aimed at seizing the bridges over the Vire and Taute Canal, southwest of Montmartin, on the right flank of the 29th Infantry Division. This flanking action was intended to protect the division as it advanced towards Saint-Lô against possible German intrusions from the west. This sector was particularly sensitive as it was the border between the action zones of the American V and VII Corps: the Germans should not be able to infiltrate between the two units and then carry out actions in the reverse.
From 11 June, patrols of the 175th IR were launched in the direction of the hamlets north of Montmartin (in particular La Surveillerie and L’Enauderie) but were pushed back in the direction of Les Veys by German troops freshly arrived on the Normandy front : the first reinforcements of the Kampfgruppe Heinz (275. Infantry-Division), coming from Brittany, reached Montmartin the day before. Hungry, they looked for food in all the houses of the village.
On 12 June, the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment (101st Airborne Division), coming from Saint-Hilaire-Petitville, received from General Taylor the mission to secure the crossing points on the Vire and Taute canal, by reaching the slight movement of land south of Montmartin. This sector was however located outside the geographical limits initially imposed to the division, being devolved to the 5th American Corps. Colonel Joseph H. Harper, commanding the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR), ordered his men to start the advance, parallel to the road linking Saint-Hilaire-Petitville to Saint-Jean-de-Daye: in the morning, the airborne soldiers started the reconnaissance of Montmartin from the north-west, but they were violently attacked by the German defenders at the level of the railroad. Casualties were particularly high on both sides and the attack stalled. Captain Ira E. Hamblin, commanding Company E of the 327th GIR, was killed in the fighting. Major Warren D. Stubblefield, Jr. (assistant officer of the 2nd Battalion) and Lieutenant Willard C. Harrison (assistant officer of Company F) died of their wounds. Shortly before nightfall, not having enough usable reports from his subordinates, Harper had his 1st Battalion break contact and repositioned it to the outskirts of the hamlet of Enauderie. The 2nd Battalion was halted at Rouxeville, about a kilometer to the west, but several of its airborne soldiers (starting with its leader, Colonel Thomas J. Rouzie) were ordered to continue towards their objective, south of Montmartin-en-Graignes.
Simultaneously, Companies C and E of the 175th IR began reconnaissance of Montmartin, this time from the northeast, each reinforced by an 81mm mortar section and a heavy machine gun section. Also suffering heavy losses, the infantrymen of Company E broke contact and withdrew in the direction of Neuilly-la-Forêt. C Company managed to cross and pass the village. It settled on the heights surrounding the hamlet of La Rayé, which offered views into the depths south of Montmartin.
General Bradley (commander of the 1st Army) became aware that the limits of the zone of action between the V and VII American Corps had to be reworked. He had a new geographical distribution of the sectors of responsibility circulated: the area of Montmartin-en-Graignes came under the control of the V Corps. As a result, the airlifted soldiers lined up north of the railway line. For Colonel Goode, the priority at the end of the day on 12 June was to reinforce the position of Company C, which was isolated south of Montmartin. He was all the more worried since C Company was accompanied by Brigadier General Norman D. Cota, second in command of the 29th Infantry Division. Goode himself took command of the reinforcement element (which consisted of Company G, reinforced by a mortar section and a machine gun section) and set off at 10:00 pm. The infantrymen reached the survivors of Company C and General Cota during the night.
The next day, 13 June, Colonel Harper received several contradictory pieces of information concerning Montmartin: the 101st Airborne Division staff informed him that a German armoured division (equipped with about 150 tanks) had arrived as a reinforcement and could possibly launch a counter-offensive. He also learned that General Cota was in the village, but as he was not aware of the presence of companies C and G of the 175th IR south of the village, he thought that General Cota was potentially taken prisoner by the Germans, or that he had been killed there. Harper immediately put on alert the artillerymen under his command as well as the naval fire support teams that accompanied him and asked for a neutralization fire on Montmartin-en-Graignes. Several naval shells fired by the USS Texas hit the village, without hitting the American positions further south. Meanwhile, the members of the 2nd Battalion of the 327th GIR under the command of Colonel Rouzie reached their objective and discovered the soldiers of the 175th IR. Airborne soldiers and infantrymen fought together against the German patrols. They withdrew to their respective lines only in the afternoon of June 13, returning to their units after nightfall.
On 14 June, the American forces reorganized and engaged “fresh” units, the shock of the first week of the landing having strongly consumed the allied combat potential. In the afternoon, the 327th GIR gave way to the 120th Infantry Regiment (30th Infantry Division), which had to carry out its baptism of fire in the direction of Saint-Jean-de-Daye. The 2nd Battalion commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Bradford was in charge of taking Montmartin, supported by the 1st Battalion and the artillerymen of the 230th Field Artillery Battalion. On June 15, at 4:30 a.m., the Americans started the artillery preparation which severely hit the village. Around 08:00 am, company E of the 120th IR started its assault towards the hamlet of L’Enauderie, supported by the tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion. The Germans put up a fierce resistance, relying on machine-gun nests they had had time to develop, but they could not fight against the 75 mm shells of the M4 Sherman and were forced to break contact. Company G advanced on the battalion’s right flank and reconnoitered the Normandy bocage to the south, also encountering stiff German resistance on the outskirts of the hamlet of Déville, being caught under machine gun and artillery fire. The 3rd Battalion, on the right flank of the regiment, recognized the Saint-Hilaire-Petitville – Saint-Jean-de-Daye axis, which was mined, forcing it to slow its advance. Judging that the momentum of his battalion was gradually breaking down, Lieutenant-Colonel Bradford decided to engage his reserve company, Company F. The latter crossed the railway line and infiltrated from the west, reaching the German trenches of Montmartin and then the center of the village at 12:35. Seven M4 Sherman tanks and a Sherman Bulldozer supported the infantrymen closely.
Colonel Hammond Birks, commanding the 120th IR, set up his command post in the village school which continued to be targeted, this time by German artillery from the south of the Vire et Taute canal. The 2nd Battalion continued its offensive until it reached the banks of the Vire at around 10:00 p.m. The 3rd Battalion reached the place known as La Comté (hamlet of Briseval) at 5.20 p.m. after heavy fighting which lasted until 7 p.m., and settled there before darkness. The 1st Battalion, a reserved element, was ordered to infiltrate between the 2nd and 3rd Battalions to position itself opposite La Rayé.
In the early hours of 16 June, several American patrols were sent at night to the Vire and Taute canal, and the hamlet of La Rayé was finally under the control of Company F (commanded by Captain Reynold C. Erickson) at around 10:00 a.m. At the end of the day, the bridges over the canal were under American control and German counter-attacks were repelled by artillery.
The Germans held their defensive positions south of the canal until July 6, 1944, when the American offensive resumed southwards. Several attempts to cross the canal by the 2nd Battalion of the 120th IR were aborted, notably on 17 June. The village of Montmartin-en-Graignes remained within range of German artillery throughout this period, which continued to devastate the buildings.
Map of Montmartin-en-Graignes: