#82airborne, #normandy, #stemereeglise, #artillery, #june1944,
Document Source: US Infantry School, Fort Benning (Georgia), Operations of the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery in the Airborne Landings near Ste Mère Eglise, Normandy, France, June 6-8, 1944, during the Normandy Campaign. Personal Experience of a Division Artillery Communications Officer, Captain Tony J. Raibl, Infantry.
Written report for unit history: Capt Whitley, July 15, 1944.
Written report for unit history: Lt Shockley, July 15, 1944.
Written report for unit history: M/Sgt Frank Vlasak, July 15, 1944.
Written report for unit history: Lt Henry W. Millington, July 15, 1944.
Written report of Sgt Charles Cummings, July 15, 1944.
Statement of Capt Walter Bedingfield, 319-GFAB Surgeon.
Statement, Col John W. Smiley, Division Artillery S-3.
Letter, Col Francis A. Maroh, December 4, 1948.
This archive covers the operations of the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery in the airborne phase of the Battle of Normandy, France, June 6-8, 1944. In order to orient the reader it is necessary to discuss briefly the military and political events which led up to the Cross-Channel invasion of the mainland. In June of 1940, the Nazis had soundly defeated the British and French at Dunkirk and could look across from Calais at the white cliffs of Dover. This was to be their exultant privilege for four years. These four years, however, had wrought a considerable change in their situation. Whereas in 1940 they had measured the short distance across the channel as a goal for further conquest, they now measured the nearness of the Allied might, poised for an invasion, which, with the exception of when and where, was not concealed from them. The fortunes of war had forced the Germans to assume a defensive attitude on the Russian Front. They were also on the defensive in Italy. But, in their eyes, the Russian Army was still the greatest threat and consequently, their strategy was based upon containing and defeating the Cross-Channel invasion forces, and then concentrating on the defeat of Russia. On the other side, to accomplish the total defeat of Germany, the US strategy conceived, as early as 1943, a plan for the Cross-Channel invasion of the European Mainland, using the British Isles as a base. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill opposed this plan from the time of its inception, but at the Tehran Conference (December 1943), it was decided that the Overlord Plan, which was the code name for the Cross-Channel invasion, would be mounted and launched in May or June of 1944, with Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Commander of the Allied sea, air, and land forces. Strategically, the mounting of Overlord was made feasible by two occurrences of major importance. First, the Battle of the Atlantic had been won by the Allies. American ships now had uninterrupted passage anywhere in the Atlantic. Secondly, the strategic bombing of Germany’s war industries had been very effective, and the once mighty Luftwaffe had been appreciably subdued. The first step in the Overlord Plan was to land on the Normandy coast and establish a base for further operations.
Normandy, a department of old France, had had a turbulent history for some 1400 years from the time it was conquered by Clovis through the Hundred Years’ War and its conquest by the French in 1450. The Normans of 1944 were known to be politically reactionary, agricultural, and antagonistic to strong authority. Collaborationists had made very little headway in this province. The general topography of the major portion of Normandy, the Cherbourg Peninsula (synonymously referred to as the Cotentin Peninsula), is made up of high ground backing the city of Cherbourg and extending generally both east and west. The south half of the Cotentin, which is of particular interest for the purpose of this narrative is generally low and drained by the Douve River, and its principal tributary, the Merderet River, into the sea at Carentan. The entire valley of the Douve is characterized by broad alluvial areas subject to inundation. The higher ground is generally in mixed agriculture, pasturage, and small orchards. The fields are small. Even the larger ones are hardly more than 150 by 350 yards. All fields are bordered by very thick hedges, trees, and earth embankments. The road network is generally excellent. As to precipitation, there is no wet or dry season, but due to the nature of the soil, there is little evaporation; consequently, the ground is usually soaked. Winds are not severe in the summer but vary in direction. The average temperature for the period May-July is approximately 60°F (15°C) degrees. Cloud and fog conditions, which are of particular interest to airborne forces, are generally unfavorable for night operations in that the cloud level at night is generally very low, and land fog conditions frequently limit visibility to almost zero.
THE ENEMY SITUATION
German civilian and army morale by June of 1944 was grim, determined, and high. This was the morale born of desperation, and contributing thereto were several factors. Allied air attack had failed to break home morale, and the defense in Italy was holding the Allied advance to a snail’s pace. The German Army had also just escaped from complete defeat at Stalingrad. Hitler also let it be known through all propaganda outlets that secret weapons which would wreak havoc on the enemy were forthcoming. The enemy had approximately 380 divisions of all kinds at this time, many of which were greatly understrength and ill-equipped. The Luftwaffe was estimated at 5300 planes of all types. Of the Army divisions, 53 were estimated to be in the West and were known to be under the very capable command of Field Marshal Rommel. The planes presumably available to repel invasion numbered 2900. There were three enemy divisions on the Cotentin Peninsula which were of immediate concern to the 82nd Airborne Division, and the VII Corps in general. The German 243.Infantry-Division and the 709.Infantry-Division, both static because unable to move with their organic transportation, were stationed strategically over the length and breadth of the Peninsula. The 91.Luftlande-Division (Airborne) Division made its appearance in St-Sauveur-Le-Vicomte and vicinity in the latter part of May, thereby causing a change in plans for the 82nd Airborne Division. The status of supply, training, and combat efficiency of the German divisions was in varying degrees from poor in the static divisions to good in the 9l.Luftlande-Division. The static divisions were understrength, short on equipment, inexperienced as units, and contained large numbers of Austrians, Bavarians, Poles, and Russians. Their morale was not high, nor was their physical condition good, but as long as they were occupying their prepared positions, they were expected to fight well, which they did. The 91.Luftlande was mobile, had armor, and the 6.Fallschirmjaeger-Regiment (Paratroopers) attached. This division constituted a formidable foe. Anti-airborne defenses in the intended areas of airborne operations, as far as passive measures were concerned, were in various stages of completion and were installed in varying degrees of thoroughness, apparently dictated by the efficiency and thoroughness of the local commander. The principal obstacle was the ‘Rommel-spargel’. Literally translated this is Rommel-asparagus, and consisted of poles in the possible drop and landing zones, wired together and connected to mines and various booby-traps. The latter refinement, in most instances, however, had not been added. In addition, there were prepared minefields, but in most instances, the mines were not armed. It was our custom to study the daily photographs of the livestock in the pasturage. By this, we were able to ascertain which areas contained armed demolitions. The inundation of the river bottoms formed the most effective obstacle. As an active means of anti-airborne defense, the enemy had established static warning posts, organized anti-airborne patrols, and engaged in frequent anti-airborne training exercises. Mobile striking forces were organized and artillery-supporting fires were planned, but it was to be brought out by later events that the Infantry-Artillery action was not well coordinated.
The ‘Rommel’s Asparagus or ‘Rommel-Spargel’ is a term used to describe a specific type of anti-glider obstacle that the Germans used during World War II as part of their defensive measures. These obstacles were named after the German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was in charge of the German defenses in Normandy during the Allied D-Day invasion. The Rommel-Spargel consisted of wooden poles or stakes that were erected in fields and open areas to hinder the landing of gliders and paratroopers. These poles were often several meters tall and were placed closely together in groups. The idea behind this obstacle was to prevent gliders from landing smoothly and paratroopers from landing safely in organized groups, thereby disrupting their effectiveness and cohesion. Rommel-Spargel obstacles were designed to create a hazardous landing environment for Allied airborne forces, making it difficult for them to assemble, regroup, and coordinate their efforts after landing. They were one of the many elements of the German defensive strategy aimed at countering airborne assaults. These obstacles were just one component of the broader defensive measures implemented by the Germans along the Normandy coast as part of the Atlantic Wall Defenses. The goal was to slow down and disrupt the progress of the invading Allied forces and give the German defenders time to organize their resistance. The Rommel’s Spargel obstacles, along with other elements of the Atlantic Wall defenses, illustrate the extent of preparation and planning that the Germans put into fortifying their positions in anticipation of an Allied invasion. However, despite these efforts, the Allied forces were able to achieve a successful landing on D-Day and eventually break through the German defenses in Normandy, marking a significant turning point in World War II. The German defenses included also: Coastal Batteries: These were large artillery emplacements strategically positioned along the coast, intended to deter or destroy incoming naval vessels. Some of these batteries housed powerful guns capable of firing at ships far out at sea. Bunkers and Fortifications: The Germans constructed concrete bunkers and defensive positions along the coast to provide shelter for troops and heavy weaponry. Some of these bunkers were resistant to naval bombardment and aerial bombing. Beach Obstacles: The Germans placed obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal obstacles, and barbed wire on the beaches to hinder the landing of Allied amphibious vehicles and troops. Mines: Anti-ship and anti-personnel mines were scattered both on the beaches and in the waters just offshore to disrupt any landing attempts. Anti-Aircraft Defenses: It’s worth noting that the Germans also installed anti-aircraft defenses to protect their positions from Allied air attacks. These defenses included anti-aircraft guns and flak positions, which could target both aircraft and airborne troops.
THE ALLIED PLAN
The ground forces to be employed formed the 21st Army Group under the operational command of British General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery. The mission of the 21st Army Group was to execute the first phase of the Overlord Plan, or Operation Neptune, as this phase was known. The lodgement area selected on the Continent was in the Caen-Cotentin Peninsula Area. In accordance with the mission, the British 2nd Army, under the command of General Sir Miles C. Dempsey, would attack on the left, establish a bridgehead, and conduct a holding action, while the US 1st Army, commanded by General Omar N. Bradley, would attack on the right and capture Cherbourg. In the U5 1st Army zone of action, the US V Corps, under the command of Gen Leonard T. Gerow, would attack on the left; and the US VII Corps, commanded by Major Gen Lawton J. Collins, would attack on the right. The US VII Corps order, in effect, was to land on its zone and capture Cherbourg with a minimum of delay. Gen Collins employed his seaborne troops in a formation of divisions in column, with the US 4th Infantry Division (reinforced) leading the assault. The 4-ID was to be followed in order by the US 90th Infantry Division and US 96th Infantry Division. The US 101st Airborne Division and the US 82nd Airborne Divisions, directly under US 1-A control, were to be employed in the zone of the VII Corps and would pass to the VII Corps control upon landing. Accordingly, the 101-A/B (Gen Maxwell D. Taylor), was given the mission to land by parachute and glider between Ste-Mère-Eglise and Carentan and assist the 4-ID in landing. The 82-A/B (Gen Matthew B. Ridgway), was assigned the mission to land by parachute and glider astride the Merderet River and block enemy reserves coming from the West.
THE DIVISION SITUATION
In the spring of 1944, the 82-A/B less the 504th Regimental Combat Team which was operating in Italy, was stationed in the English Midlands north of London. The major units organic to the division were the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and the Division Artillery consisting of one Parachute and two Glider Field Artillery Battalions. Additional infantry for the Normandy operation was forthcoming in the attachment of the 2nd Parachute Brigade, which consisted of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, thereby giving Gen Ridgway a quadrilateral division. Our two previous airborne operations were of immeasurable help in perfecting our technique, but unfortunately, we had never combat-landed gliders before. Also, since this was to be a joint operation in that British aircraft and facilities would be used, of immediate concern was the standardizing of loading manifests, methods of marshalling and loading, alert and jump signals, and the many other details peculiar to an airborne operation. The glider troops had the larger problem. All glider training had been based upon the use of the WACO CG-4 glider. This craft, with a maximum payload of 3750 pounds, had generally been mastered as to the computation of loads, loading, lashing, and unloading. Many of the officers and non-commissioned officers had even had the opportunity to co-pilot these craft and had gained confidence thereby. But now the gliders were introduced to the British Horsa Glider, which, it was learned, would be the principal glider used in the forthcoming operation. The Horsa carried a payload of nearly twice that of the Waco, or 6900 pounds. It was of plywood construction and stood on a tricycle landing gear some four feet off the ground. Computation of loads to properly place the center of gravity was difficult, elaborate equipment such as metal ramps and clamps were required to load heavy items of equipment into its side door and secure same. This lashing equipment in itself weighed about 300 pounds.