Ste Marie du Mont

The same tactics were agreed upon for the capture of the town. A base of fire unit and an assaulting force was established. At the ditch junction, one company commander proceeded up the ditch with one man and the machine gun, and the other party attempted to cross the open field to the east to close on the south edge of the village. Two men were selected as scouts and directed to proceed across the field by bounds. The first man ran about twenty feet into the field and took cover behind some wisps of hay. An enemy machine gun from the edge of the town opened fire on this man and wounded him. He was retrieved under continuous machine gun fire and the plan to cross this open ground was abandoned. The progress of the other officer with the machine gun was equally fruitless, and the force withdrew to the battery position. Here one of the guns was bore-sighted on the steeple of the town church and after knocking that potential observation post out, the suspected machine gun locations on the edge of town were fired upon.

Col Sink was again contacted by radio and informed of the failure of the attack and advised that the town could be taken if more troops were available. Reinforced by forty or more men from the regimental CP, another attack on the town was launched. By this time, 1300, elements of the 4-ID were pushing into the town from the east, and the town fell without serious opposition. During the day, the 3/506 had secured the second beach exit, and troops of the seaborne units were passing through the exits and proceeding inland to the north.

506th in Ste Marie du Mont

At dusk, the two elements of the 1/506 and the 2/506 were assembled at Colville. There had still been no word from or contact made with the 3/506, which was responsible for a regimental objective to the south. Neither had there been any contact with the battalion of the 501-PIR, which was responsible for securing the highway bridges over the Douve, north of Carentan. Tactically, the regiment could be considered the best established of any in the division. The regimental commander had control of two of his battalions and was more or less centrally located within the division area; whereas, the other regiments were engaged in accomplishing their missions on the perimeter. These, and the absence of positive information about the units to the south, were the considerations that caused Gen Maxwell D. Taylor, CG 101-A/B, to visit the regimental CP on the night of June 6, and order the 506/101 to recon the area to the south in force. To assist in this, he attached to the regiment the 401-GIR, which had come ashore during the day.

Recon to the South

As the 401-GIR was at full strength and fresh, Col Sink planned to have it lead the attack through Vierville toward St Come du Mont, to be followed by the 1/506, the 2/506, Regimental Headquarters, a platoon of attached AT guns, and a platoon of engineers. The strength of the 1/506 was unpretentious; Able Co numbered around forty, Baker had nearly fifty, Charlie totaled thirty odd, and Hqs Co approximately fifty.

one of many Purple heart Medals

The attack was planned for 0430 on June 7. The 401-GIR failed to appear at the appointed time and the 1/506 was given the mission of leading the attack. Baker Co was ordered to take responsibility for two hundred yards on the right of the road, Charlie Co two hundred yards on the left of the road, and Able and Hqs Cos were ordered to follow on the road. The Battalion S-4 had been active during the night, and as the companies passed the IP on time, rations and a limited quantity of ammunition were handed out. Baker Co was harassed by sniper fire which came from the hedgerows to its front and right; consequently, its progress was slow. Charlie Co, moving in a line of platoons in a column along adjacent hedgerows, had no contact with the enemy until reaching the highway from the beach to St Come du Mont. Here, the north of Vierville, Charlie Co was engaged by a force of approximately a platoon. The company deployed on both sides of the road and sent one squad around the extreme left flank to attempt to dislodge the enemy from the hedgerows. This squad did not move far enough to the left and was outflanked and pinned down by the fire.

Baker Co had come up to Vierville on the right of the road and was preparing to continue toward the south when Gen Taylor and Col Sink contacted Col Turner in the Vierville church. Has and Able Cos had continued on the road into Vierville without opposition. Col Sink had received information that elements of the 3/506 had held their objective, so he ordered the 1/506 toward a crossroads to the south of St Come du Mont. As Charlie Co was still engaged, Able Co was ordered to take Able Co’s position on the left of the road, and Charlie Co was ordered to disengage and take Able Co’s place in the column. Charlie Co requested an AT gun to assist in disengaging the forward squad. This gun was made available by the regimental commander, and with it the hedgerows in which the enemy was concealed were taken under direct fire, relieving the pressure on the squad so that it withdrew without suffering any casualties. The enemy did, however, pursue the squad along the hedgerows, so that when the squad had rejoined the company at the edge of the town and the company had proceeded south on the road toward St Come du Mont, the 3/506, following on the road, was taken under fire while in the town, and pinned down for several hours.

Normandy, 57-MM AT Gun in action

The progress of Baker and Able Cos, after leaving Vierville, was slow. The enemy occupied the hedgerows, particularly on the right of the road, and forward progress by Baker Co was made by sending out units to outflank the enemy positions. Whereupon, the enemy would withdraw one hedgerow to his rear, and the same process would have to be repeated. The smokeless, flashless properties of the enemy’s ammunition, and his skill at camouflaging himself and his positions, made it extremely difficult to locate the precise location from which he was firing. The hedgerows deserve more than just passing comment for they had a direct effect on the tactics employed by units of all echelons. The French farmers considered them as part of the economy of the land, as they served in a variety of ways. A hedgerow was at once: a permanent fence that required little or no maintenance; a plot of ground that supported the growth of small trees and brush, providing the farmer with his cooking am heating fuel; a cover to birds and small animals for his table; a vineyard from which he harvested berries; a barrier for the control of surface drainage and erosion; and, not the least important, a windbreak, protecting his crops from channel storms. The Germans integrated these barricades into their defenses. Throughout the hedgerows and particularly the intersections, they dug spider holes, carefully removing the soil and retaining the natural appearance of the position.

Normandy 1944, the Hedgerows Battle

These provided a series of pré-constructed outpost lines or defensive lines, which could be manned by a minimum of troops and permitted the greatest flexibility of movement to the defenders. The trees and brush were ideal for the erection and concealment of telephone wire, as they screened observation from everywhere except the air. The hedgerows were thick enough to give protection from the fire of all weapons except direct hits of artillery. The ditches at the base of each side of the hedgerows were available for protection when the attacker employed his mortars so that the only effective fire which could be placed on defending troops was direct hits in the ditches or on the spider holes. The advantages of the hedgerow systems were predominant with the defender through his knowledge of the terrain and the location of the pré-constructed emplacements. A smallholding force could delay a relatively large force and cause it to deploy, bring up its mortars, search the suspected hedgerow, and probe extensively to the flanks. The decision to abandon the position remained with the defender until antitank weapons could be brought up, and, by direct short-range fire, blast open the spider hole. This method, while effective, was costly in gun crews, and embarrassingly slow, for a squad could delay a battalion for a matter of hours.

While training in England, the division had maneuvered in the Slapton Sands area on the south coast. This area had been chosen as it most nearly represented the terrain of Normandy. The hedgerows, the clay soil, the Norman-type architecture, the deep sunken roads, and the tactics were essentially the same as were later seen in Normandy. Unfortunately, the tactics at Slapton Sands and for the first few days in Normandy were confined to maneuvering along with the road nets, and the tremendous tactical benefits which could have been gained through better use of the Slapton Sands area were lost.

Hdgeros Battle 1944 Normandy (Illustration on Purpose)

Illustration 1944 - France - German Artillery

An old Frenchman with two captured young German soldiers of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, 1944

Action at Beaumont

The distance from Vierville to Beaumont by road is less than 1700 yards, yet it took approximately an hour and a half for the 1/506 to reach this small cluster of farm buildings. Here, the line was slowly straightened when Baker Co pulled up alongside Able Co, which had had relatively open terrain on its flank and had progressed more rapidly. It was here, also, that the first organized defensive position, occupied in strength, was reached. On the right of the road, in Baker Co’s sector, was a farmhouse surrounded by orchards. It was on commanding ground and the area around had been built up into a strong defensive position. Connecting trenches ran down the hill to the house, where they branched off in all directions and gave clear fields of fire and excellent routes of withdrawal. Baker Co, in its forward push, had pressed the enemy back to the house but could not stretch its already thin line further to ensure that the house and the adjacent trenches were cleared. These positions were reoccupied by the enemy and Baker Co was taken under heavy fire, suffering several casualties. At approximately the same time, accurate mortar fire fell on the crossroad at Beaumont and continued to fall intermittently throughout the remainder of the time the battalion operated in that area.

Able Co, pushing off again on the left, was stopped, immediately by machine gun fire from the hedgerows to its direct front. Previously, in the morning’s advance, most of the opposition had been rifle fire, but this fire was much heavier in volume and the casualties inflicted in the first skirmish with this position were heavy. About seven men from Baker Co had become casualties since leaving Vierville; Able Co now lost five, Charlie and Hqs Cos together had lost another five from mortar fire on the road. Shortly before noon, three light tanks from the beach joined the battalion at Beaumont. They were sent up the road toward the head of the column, where Col Turner and the Tank Commander decided to attempt to knock out the machine gun positions by tank artillery fire. To point out targets, Col Turner, who was a former Cavalry officer, got into the lead tank and it started down the road. It had gone but a few yards when Col Turner, who was standing up in the turret, was shot through the head and killed instantly. The news of this misfortune spread rapidly through the battalion and served to split the battalion into four separate companies.

Col William L. Turner KIA June 7 1944Col Turner was a slight, aggressive individual, and had been with the battalion since its activation. He had dominated his staff and company commanders, but his strong character had been a source of inspiration and confidence to the battalion. His executive officer had only one previous opportunity to demonstrate his capabilities to the battalion, and that had been an unfortunate experience on the occasion of Col Turner’s only leave.

The incident had occurred on the last battalion exercise prior to moving to the marshaling area. It had been a cold, miserable night, and nothing had been accomplished according to plan. The route had been lost and there was much marching without purpose. The troops chose to ignore the difficulties of the terrain, the complete darkness, and other inadvertent misfortunes, and laid full blame for their misery, whether or not it was justified, on the acting battalion commander. Although Col Turner had been a strict disciplinarian and had been exacting with his officers and men, he was respected by all; so it was the news of his death and the lack of confidence in the new commander that reduced the morale of the battalion to a low point.

Headquarters of the American cemeteries’ № 1 and 2 within the Hospice (Ste Mère Eglise)

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