SEALING OFF THE PENINSULA
In this sector the Germans continued to offer greater resistance than from the west. The enemy was withdrawing on all fronts, but withdrawal to the north was accompanied by considerable fire. The northern flank of the 9th Division was exposed to attack as the division moved westward toward Ste. Colombe. Both Corps and division commanders took precautions to guard the northern flank. General Collins ordered that, in the vicinity of Biniville, all antitank guns were to cover the roads and trails to the north, since any enemy attack was likely to come from that direction, and the 47th Infantry was ordered to establish defenses in this area.
Meanwhile plans were made to exploit the bridgehead over the Douve and to cut the peninsula. The 60th Infantry was to cross the Douve at Ste. Colombe and, as soon as possible, push west and seize the high ground in the vicinity of St. Pierre-d'Artheglise (Map XI). The 47th Infantry was to swing south, passing through the 82d Airborne Division bridgehead at St. Sauveur-le Vicomte, and push southwest to cut off the escape corridor between the Prairies Marecageuses and St. Lo-d'Ourville. The defense against attack from the north was to be taken over progressively by the 39th Infantry and then the 90th Division. Since the 39th Infantry was still engaged at Orglandes and it was not known how soon it could relieve the 47th, General Eddy ordered part of the 47th left east of Ste. Colombe to block the roads with infantry and antitank guns. The 39th Infantry was ordered to hasten the clearing of Orglandes by shelling the town with 4.2-inch mortars if artillery could not reduce the opposition there.
That night (16 June) enemy machine-gun fire forced the 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, to withdraw from Orglandes. In the morning the town was shelled, and at 0730 Companies A and B entered and cleaned out the remaining resistance. The 3d Battalion moved up to the Biniville- Hautteville area to take over the defenses from the 47th Infantry. In the afternoon the 1st Battalion (minus Company C) was attached to the 60th Infantry.
The 9th Division Cuts the Escape Routes
The 60th and 47th Infantry Regiments meanwhile made spectacular progress westward in their drive to seize the principal roads leading out of the peninsula along the western corridor, thus cutting the peninsula. On 17 June the two regiments moved generally along the axis of the two main east-west roads. The 60th Infantry struck from Nehou west toward St. Pierre-d'Artheglise and Hills 145 and 133, which dominated the entire countryside, including Barneville-sur-Mer; the 47th Infantry moved south to St. Sauveur-le Vicomte and then southwest along the highway toward its objective, the intersection northeast of St. Lo-d'Ourville. Enemy forces west of the Douve were believed to be small, but had not been identified. Vehicular traffic, observed moving southward out of the peninsula and westward from St. Jacques-de-Nehou, gave no clear indication of enemy intentions.
Freed for a new mission when one battalion of the 39th Infantry took over Hautteville during the night, the 47th Infantry began moving toward St. Sauveur-le Vicomte at 0500 on 17 June with the 3d Battalion acting as advance guard in the column of battalions. Opposition was light, although enemy riflemen and an antitank gun west of St. Sauveur-le Vicomte caused a slight delay. From this point the 1st and 2d Battalions moved directly west to Hill 110. The 3 d Battalion turned southwest to Hill 90, where it was held up by enemy resistance until mid-afternoon. It continued west for several thousand yards and then cut south to the highway intersection. The 2d Battalion crossed Hill 110, advanced south to the highway, and then pushed on toward Canville after a sharp fire fight in the evening with enemy delaying units. At 2200 the 1st Battalion reached Grande Huanville and cut the la Haye du Puits- Barneville road, the last main exit from the peninsula.
These advances had been pressed vigorously on verbal orders, and the regiment was already at Hills 110 and 90 when division Field Order No. 3, naming these as objectives, was issued at 1500. The regiment was then given further verbal orders to continue its drive and completely block the corridor between St. Lo-d'Ourville and St. Sauveur-de-Pierre-Pont.
Meanwhile the 60th Infantry moved out in column of battalions from its bridgehead at Ste. Colombe at 0600. The enemy had evacuated Nehou and the columns moved down the Nehou-Barneville highway without encountering any resistance except from small straggler units. An entire enemy field artillery battalion was captured by the 1st Battalion, last in the column. Late in the afternoon the 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, joined the column pushing west and by nightfall all four battalions were strung out between the Douve and the sea. The 3d Battalion, 60th Infantry, was driving toward Barneville-sur-Mer; the 2d and 1st Battalions were pushing westward through St. Pierre-d'Artheglise toward Hills 145 and 133, respectively, which dominated the Barneville-sur-Mer-Bricquebec highway; and the 1st Battalion of the 39th was nearing St. Jacques-de- Nehou.
The progress had been so good all day that General Collins ordered the 9th Division to go as far as possible that night and to complete the sealing off of the peninsula. At 2210 General Eddy, passing the 60th Infantry CP group on the road, said: "We're going all the way tonight." The 3d Battalion received verbal orders to continue to Barneville-sur- Mer and cut the coastal road there; the 1st Battalion, 47th Infantry, was already astride that road farther south. Road blocks were established at the crossings of the Seye River, north of le Valdecie, to protect the division's line of communications.
The 47th Infantry was also ordered by General Collins to push on, and at 2300 the 3d Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Clayman,
The actual cutting of the peninsula was accomplished on the night of 17 June. The 82d Airborne Division had secured control of the causeway over the Prairies Marecageuses south of St. Sauveur-le Vicomte. The Barneville-la Haye du Puits highway had been cut at Gde. Huanville by the 1st Battalion, 47th Infantry , and the 2d and 3d Battalions were progressively plugging the Canville-Neuville-en-Beaumont gap, eliminating the remaining enemy forces around these two towns and St. Lo-d'Ourville the next day, 18 June.
In the 60th Infantry's zone the Barneville-sur-Mer mission was undertaken by the 3d Battalion, led by Company K riding 5 tanks (Company B, 746th Tank Battalion), 4 tanks destroyers (Company A, 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion), and the 4 half-tracks of the antitank platoon. At 2200 they jumped off from the crossroads south of le Valdecie,
While the other units of the 3d Battalion remained in position to cover from the high ground overlooking the town, Company K entered with the tanks, the tank destroyers, and a platoon of heavy machine guns. A few German MP's were taken prisoner. During the day the enemy made no concerted attempt to regain the town, although brief fire fights developed with small enemy groups which intended to pass through the town and were surprised at the presence of the Americans. At 1000 about 125 Germans attacked from the southeast but were beaten off by Company L, which took 85 prisoners.
At the same time, to the north and east, larger enemy units tried to break through the 60th Infantry's string of positions extending from Barneville-sur-Mer through Hill 133 (1st Battalion), Hill 145 (2d Battalion), and St. Jacques-de-Nehou (1st Battalion, 39th Infantry). An attempt to slash through the Bricquebec-Barneville road by a column of infantry and artillery vehicles was disastrous for the enemy. All available guns of the 60th Field Artillery Battalion were concentrated on the head of the column when it was first observed west of Hill 14, and the fire was then adjusted to creep five miles up the congested road. Infantry and antitank fire joined the artillery. The heavy fire destroyed thirty-five vehicles (including trucks, half-tracks, cars, and a tank), ten guns, and numerous machine guns and mortars, as well as wagons, trailers, motorcycles, caissons, bicycles, and horses. Other enemy columns were stopped and destroyed at road blocks north of le Valdecie. Several staff officers of the 77th Division were captured in one of the columns.
The most serious threat to the 9th Division's northern flank developed north of St. Jacques-de-Nehou, where the 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel Tucker), had gone into position on the night of 17 June. Attached to the 60th Infantry as reserve, following the capture of Orglandes, it had not received any definite mission other than to follow the 60th Infantry, presumably to aid in protecting the division's lengthening northern flank. The battalion finally settled down for the night at 0200 in position astride a road running north from St. Jacques- de-Nehou. The position commanded the draws to the front, but the flanks were unprotected.
At 0430 heavy machine-pistol and machinegun fire was heard. It seemed to cover the entire battalion front. Riflemen in Companies A and B began to return the enemy fire and were able to fight largely from their bivouac positions. Machine guns and mortars were quickly unloaded from vehicles and started to fire without observation.
In the darkness, which made it difficult to find targets, a hot fire fight developed, the enemy advancing at times to within grenade-throwing distance. But the riflemen gave no ground, and 900 rounds were fired by the mortars, sometimes at ranges of 20 yards. Fighting at close quarters, one machine gunner found his fire masked by a herd of cows. A sergeant in Company A attempted to clear the cows from the line of fire by throwing stones and shell-cases. Finally he gave up. "Mow 'em down, Mike," he told his gunner.
Despite this heavy fire the battalion's position remained precarious. It had no antitank guns and no artillery support. The 60th Field Artillery Battalion, endangered because of its
Communication with higher headquarters was established only after the withdrawal, when the division wire was finally located. General Eddy approved the withdrawal but ordered the battalion to hold its new line and promised support by a division artillery concentration. When the plight of the battalion was made known to Corps, General Collins directed the 79th Division to move an infantry battalion via motor to the vicinity of Ste. Colombe.
This order was countermanded, however, when General Eddy had become satisfied that Colonel Tucker's men were in no immediate danger. Colonel Tucker had already made plans to counterattack with division artillery support. Shortly after 0900 the artillery fired a "zombie" and the 81- mm. mortars fired their entire basic loads of ammunition. As a result, when the riflemen moved out, they were able to push straight through to their old positions-and drove the enemy back to the Seye River. In all, the battalion suffered 39 casualties during the enemy attack and 4 or S in the counterattack. In the drive back to ground previously held, 60 German wounded were taken and 250 dead were found scattered at scores of points.
In the drive toward the Douve River from 14 to 16 June, elements of three German divisions, the 243d, 91st, and 77th, were identified. As the 82d Airborne Division and the 9th Division approached the Douve, some of these units retired across the river at St. Sauveur-le Vicomte and Ste. Colombe. Others probably withdrew northward, but their exact location was unknown. On the night of 16 June, when the 60th Infantry was still engaged in securing a bridgehead opposite Ste. Colombe, Lt. Col. Robert W. Robb, the 9th Division G-2, listed as an enemy capability in the sector west of the Douve an attack from the north in an effort to "evacuate certain personnel from the peninsula." This prognosis was apparently substantiated during the night of 17-18 June when enemy units tried to break through the road blocks on the Seye, when a motorized column tried to strike south on the Bricquebec-Barneville road, and particularly when others attacked the 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, at St. Jacques-de-Nehou. A prisoner taken during the latter action stated that the German attack was made by the 3d Battalion and part of the 2d Battalion of the 1049th Regiment (77th Division).
The problem actually facing the enemy was more than an effort to evacuate certain personnel from the peninsula. He was trying to delay to the maximum the American bid to cut the peninsula and, at the same time, to prevent having his best troops, the 77th Division, trapped north of the breakthrough if it should occur. Most of the German units in the Cotentin had suffered severe losses in the fighting to date and the 91st Division was so badly decimated that it could scarcely be counted as a division at all. How long was it a good gamble to leave the 77th Division committed against the increasing American pressure?
By 13 June the enemy was sure that the intention of the U.S. forces was to cut the peninsula. At first Field Marshal Rommel thought that there was a possibility of preventing this by moving the 77th Division down from the Merderet to block the American advance west
In anticipation of an American breakthrough, LXXXIV Corps on 15 June ordered the reorganization of German forces in the peninsula into two Kamfgruppen. The field order, copies of which were captured the next day by the 9th Division, organized the 709th Division and 243d Division into one Kampfgruppe under Generalleutnant Karl Wilhelm von Schlieben, commanding the 709th Division. The 77th and 91st Divisions were combined in another Kampfgruppe under Generalleutnant Heinz Hellmich, commander of the 243d Division. If the peninsula were cut, Kampfgruppe von Schlieben was to defend Cherbourg and Kampfgruppe Hellmich was to pull out to the south to prevent any further American penetration south of St. Lo-d'Ourville.
No movement of troops was undertaken under this plan because the whole situation had become the personal concern of Hitler. He countermanded the Seventh Army's planned redisposition of forces in the Cotentin on 15 June, and ordered the line of that date held at all costs. But there was little the German command could do to carry out this order. The breaking of the Merderet line and the drive west had compromised the whole enemy position by extending his lines of defense.
The problem was brought to a head on 16 June when the 82d Airborne Division surprised the enemy by advancing rapidly to St. Sauveur-le Vicomte and establishing a bridgehead across the Douve. Aware of the inevitable consequences of the continued American advance, LXXXIV Corps immediately asked permission to withdraw the 77th Division southward in the hope that the westward surge of the 82d Airborne Division and 9th Division could still be stopped. Seventh Army also considered this move imperative and, fearing landings on the northwest coast, also regarded it as urgent that "movement Cherbourg" (of von Schlieben's group) be executed immediately. Both Rommel and von Rundstedt appreciated this and were particularly concerned over the likelihood that troops would be needlessly locked in the peninsula and sacrificed. But they would authorize only the movement of small forces of the 77th Division, pending approval from Hitler's headquarters.
On 17 June permission was finally granted to implement the provisional clauses of the original plan o£ withdrawal as set forth in the Corps field order of 15 June. Hitler, however, again emphasized the importance of holding Cherbourg at all costs and enjoined the von Schlieben force to retard the progress of the Americans, reminding the general that "the possession of Cherbourg is decisive." Accordingly, von Schlieben was authorized to withdraw slowly from his "perilous position."
The redisposition of the Kampfgruppe Hellmich proved more difficult. General Hellmich was killed on 17 June, while attempting to redispose elements of the 709th Division and his own 243d Division. Meanwhile, Generalleutnant Rudolf Stegmann of the 77th Division was ordered to disengage and withdraw to la Haye du Puits. The division field order for this movement, captured the fol-
MAP NO. 25
lowing day, gave the march routes for the various units. The 1049th Regiment (Col. Rudolf Bacherer) was assigned a route from Magneville across the Douve to St. Jacques-de-Nehou. This was the force which attacked and was then routed by the 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, on the morning of 18 June. While directing the various elements of the 77th Division in their attempted escape from the peninsula, General Stegmann was killed in an attack by an American fighter-bomber.
The division field order of 17 June, which stated that "eventual enemy resistance on the march must be broken under all circumstances," had come too late. A battalion of the 1050th Regiment temporarily wrested control of a bridge over the Ollande River near St. Lo-d'Ourville on 19 June, took a considerable number of Americans prisoner, and opened the way for Colonel Bacherer to lead from 1,200 to 1,400 men through the American lines, but large numbers of the 77th Division were trapped in the peninsula and its artillery was completely destroyed.
The cutting of the peninsula by the 9th Division marks the end of a phase in the VII
Actually the main roads leading out of the peninsula had been severed by the night of 17 June. The next day the 47th Infantry mopped up small pockets of resistance, mainly stragglers, in the vicinity of Neuville- en-Beaumont and St. Lo-d'Ourville. During the afternoon this regiment was relieved by the 357th Infantry, which assumed responsibility for the Corps' left flank security, and the 47th moved to Fierville as division reserve.
The 358th and 359th Regiments of the 90th Division had reached their objective line between Terre de Beauval and le Ham, relieving the 39th Infantry of responsibility east of Douve. By noon the 39th was moving west to the vicinity of St. Jacques-de-Nehou, preparatory to the jump- off for Cherbourg. Later in the day the 357th Infantry was ordered to relieve the 47th Infantry to prevent enemy penetration through the St. Lo-d'Ourville gap.
Protection of the southern line gradually fell to VIII Corps (Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton), which became operational on 15 June. On that day it had taken over the 101st Airborne Division and on 19 June the 82d Airborne Division and elements of the 90th Division also came under its control. With these adjustment the VII Corps, with three divisions, was free to start the drive on Cherbourg.
Return to the Table of Contents