13 June, 2011

13 June, 1944

No letter today. Just this:

Greg arrived on Utah Beach on 12 June, 1944 to join the VII Corps under Collins. The progress of VII Corps can be seen on the map below, where Allied forces are shown in blue and German forces in red. [Click to enlarge, back arrow to return.]

Map of the movement of Allied and German Forces
from D-day to D-Day plus 6 (12 June, 1944).

The small town of Carentan occupied a pivotal position between Omaha and Utah Beaches, and its capture was one of the most important American priorities in the days immediately after D-Day. Carentan was naturally protected by the swamps of the lower Taute and Vire rivers, and artificially by inundations created by German flooding. The only good road across this area ran through Carentan and on to PĂ©riers, but this single road was very easily defended.

The 101st Airborne was given the task of taking Carentan. The only available approach to the town ran along another causeway that entered the town from the north. The attack had begun on 8 June, but progress was very slow. It took two days to reach Carentan, but on 10 June the 101st had begun to surround the town. On 11 June the paratroops had finally fought their way past the outer defenses of the town. The beleagured defenders of the town called for supplies to be dropped from the air, but no supplies appeared. On the night of 11-12 June, under heavy American fire, the Germans had abandoned Carentan. The gap between the beaches had seemed to be closed.

However, this battle wasn't over. Germany's Field Marshall Erwin Rommel saw the recapture of Carentan as essential to successfully defeat the Allied invasion. On 12 June he informed Keitel that he intended to move the focus of his operations west to Carentan and Montebourg, in an effort to destroy the American beachhead on the Cotentin Peninsula. On the same day he ordered the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment to retake the town. Fortunately for the Allies, Rommel's promised reinforcements were severely delayed by a combination of air attacks and sabotage by the Resistance.

The counterattack took place on the morning of 13 June. The SS troops reached to within 500 yards of the town before they were defeated by the 101st Airborne with help from the U.S. 2nd Armoured Division. The coordinated efforts of the tanks, infantry, and artillery threw the enemy back several thousand yards, inflicting an estimated loss of 500 men. Worse was to follow for the Germans, for the movement of the 17th SS had left a gap in their lines, which the U.S. 1st Division would exploit.

The capture of Carentan again closed the gap between the Utah and Omaha beachheads, the last gap between the D-Day landing zones. This was one of the most important moments in the battle of Normandy, for it removed any danger that the Germans might have been able to destroy the isolated Utah beach head. However, although the Allies were safely ashore, and their bridgehead, unless they made a major error, unlikely to be threatened, a grim battle of attrition lay ahead. The first major task was to complete the capture of Cherbourg, for nature was about to demonstrate the frightening vulnerability of the Allied forces until they held a major port.

The entrance in Carentan by Rue Holgate, coming from Periers road.

Medical Jeep rides down Rue Holgate, Carentan

M-7 Tank rolls by Aid Station, Rue Holgate, Carentan

101st Airborne patrolling Carentan street

American howitzers shell German forces near Carentan

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