|ABOVE RIGHT: Eisenhower awarding the DSC to Lt. John Spalding.|
Excerpt from Gordon A. Harrison, United States Army in World War II: Cross-Channel Attack (Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 1989 reprint, first published 1951), pages 300 to 335.
D-Day advance on Easy Red and Fox Green. Elements of the 16th's 2nd Battalion (E and G Companies are west of Colleville. Detail of map from CROSS-CHANNEL ATTACK.
D-Day advance before noon on Easy Red. Spalding's section of E Company is represented in the arrow furthest left. (Detail of map from OMAHA BEACHHHEAD)
Cross-Channel Attack is a magnificent achievement. It is one of the finest volumes in the official history series, The United States Army in World War II. The text below are excerpts that pertain to the 16th Infantry and the overall picture on D-Day.
The author, Gordon A. Harrison, had been both a newspaper reporter and an instructor at Harvard University (he held a Doctor of Philosophy degree from that institution). During World War II, Harrison served as an historical officer with the Third Army during five campaigns. His colleague, Forrest C. Pogue offered this portrait in Pogue's War: "Sergeant Gordon Harrison...had served for a time as a medic and as an MP before coming to the Historical Section. Looking more like a prizefighter than a scholar, he was well versed in literature, music, and history, and was one of the best interviewers and writers we had. He had an eye for terrain, a knack for getting at the heart of the matter, and a facility for finding the right word which all of us envied...."
The Sixth of June
Hitting the Beaches
Most serious were the limitations on air operations. Heavy bombers assigned to hit the coastal fortifications at OMAHA Beach had to bomb by instruments through the overcast. With concurrence of General Eisenhower the Eighth Air Force ordered a deliberate delay of several seconds in its release of bombs in order to insure that they were not dropped among the assault craft. The result was that the 13,000 bombs dropped by 329 B-24 bombers did not hit the enemy beach and coast defenses at all but were scattered as far as three miles inland.
Naval gunfire coupled with the air bombardment, however, had one important effect at OMAHA Beach which was not at first apparent to the assaulting troops. The Germans credit the Allied bombardment with having detonated large mine field areas on which they counted heavily to bar the attackers from penetrating inland between the infantry strong points. Preparatory fire seems also to have knocked out many of the defending rocket pits. But it was supporting naval gunfire after H Hour which made the substantial contribution to the battle, in neutralizing key strong points, breaking up counterattacks, wearing down the defenders, and dominating the assault area.
Early success and extraordinarily light casualties on UTAH Beach contrasted sharply with the difficulties experienced during those first critical three hours at OMAHA. The German LXXXIV Corps and Seventh Army believed through most of D Day that the OMAHA assault had been stopped at the water's edge. It was late in the morning before General Bradley aboard the Augusta could have contradicted that view and much longer before the Allied command could feel secure about the V Corps beachhead.
Leading the attack of General Gerow's V Corps was the 1st Division (Maj. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner) assaulting with two regiments abreast, the 116th Infantry (attached from the 29th Division) on the right, the 16th Infantry on the left. Each regiment was to land two battalion landing teams at H Hour with initial missions to clear the beach defenses and seize and secure that portion of the beachhead maintenance line in their respective zones. The beachhead maintenance line roughly followed the ridge of high ground parallel to the main coastal road and was in most places from two to three miles inland. From this line the assault regiments, supported by the 18th Infantry landing after H plus 3 hours and the 26th Infantry landing on order of the Commanding General, V Corps, would punch out toward the D Day phase line. Occupation of that phase line would mean securing a coastal strip five or six miles deep astride the Bayeux highway.
Perhaps the most important job assigned to the first assault waves was the reduction of enemy positions defending the roads leading from the beach inland. The gently sloping sand of OMAHA Beach was backed by an embankment of loose stones, or shingle, in places of as much as fifteen yards wide. In the Vierville sector the shingle piled up against a part-masonry, part-wood sea wall. On the rest of the beach there was no wall, but the shingle lay against a sand embankment or dune line. Both the shingle and the dune line were impassable for vehicles. Behind the beach rose scrub-covered bluffs 100 to 170 feet high of varying steepness and merging east with the cliffs, which at Pointe et Raz de la Percee and east of Colleville marked the extremities of the 7,000-yard crescent beach. The bluffs were cut by five draws. Through four of these ran unimproved roads, one connecting with the main coastal highway at Vierville-sur-Mer, two at St. Laurent, and one at Colleville. The fifth draw northeast of Colleville was steep and contained only a trail, but it was considered capable of development as a vehicle exit. The plan assumed these exits would be open to traffic at least by H plus 2 hours when the heavy flow of vehicular reinforcements was scheduled to begin. The importance of the beach exits was, of course, as obvious to the Germans as to the Allies and local coastal defenses were grouped to deny their use to the attackers. On the other hand, the 1st Division had precise information on the location of these defenses and every provision was made to give the assaulting infantry the heavy fire support needed to knock them out.
At H minus 50 minutes, two companies of DD tanks (741st Tank Battalion) destined for the 16th Infantry beaches were launched 6,000 yards offshore and almost immediately began to flounder. Of the thirty-two tanks launched only five reached shore. These were the first of the casualties to the weather. There were others. The assaulting infantry was transferred from transports to LCVP's ten to eleven miles offshore. At least ten of the ferrying craft were swamped on the way in. More serious for the operation was the sinking of much of the artillery. The attempt to ferry guns ashore in DUKW's through the heavy seas proved disastrous. All but one of the 105-mm. howitzers of the 11th Field Artillery Battalion were sunk. Six of the 105's belonging to the 7th Field Artillery Battalion suffered the same fate. Five of the six howitzers of the 16th Infantry Cannon Company were also swamped. In addition to these wholesale losses the 58th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, whos guns were mounted on LCT's and had taken part in the initial beach drenching, lost three of its pieces when the craft carrying them hit mines. In short, the artillery that was planned to support the infantry attack particularly in the advance inland did not reach the shore.
Naval gunfire had temporarily neutralized some of the enemy batteries and fortifications but most of them were still able to fire at the incoming troops as soon as the bombardment was forced to lift inland. The 1st Division men in the first LCVP's could hear machine gun bullets splatter against the steel ramps of their craft before they grounded. Debarking in water sometimes up to their necks, the troops on some sectors of the beach were met with a hail of bullets that drove some to seek shelter under the surf, others to scramble over the sides of the craft. Control of boat sections was thus often lost before the men were even started in to the beach. The troops, overladen with heavy clothing and equipment, waded slowly through the surf and through fire that increased as they approached the beach. Some stopped to rest or seek shelter behind obstacles. Some lay at the water's edge and were able eventually to crawl in with the tide. But casualties generally were heavier among those who delayed in getting up onto the beach. Many of the wounded were drowned in the rising tide.
The first wave should have landed nine companies evenly spaced along the beach. Because of withering enemy fire and mislandings, however, the right wing all but disintegrated; two companies bunched in front of les Moulins, and the remainder of the landings (elements of four companies) clustered in the Colleville sector. One company was carried so far to the east that it landed an hour and a half late.
The experience of the 16th Infantry on the left flank of the division duplicated that of the 116th, as scattered landings and heavy casualties left the first boat sections incapable of undertaking their primary assault missions. In the 16th's zone, however, one soft spot was discovered. Four boat sections of the 2d Battalion, 16th Infantry, landing between the St. Laurent and Colleville exits, crossed the beach with only two casualties from enemy fire. The local defense of this sector of the beach was the Colleville strong point, which was planned as three mutually supporting resistance nests. Of these the field fortified position atop the bluff midway between the two draws was unoccupied in February 1944 and seemingly remained unoccupied on D Day. Apparent German negligence that left the beach northwest of Colleville without immediate defense was balanced at first by Allied ill fortune in landing so few men there. Except for those four boat sections of the 2d Battalion the first wave of the 16th Infantry (Companies E and F) touched down immediately in front, or east, of the occupied fortifications of the Colleville strong point and was there caught in machine gun fire as intense as that which decimated the 116th Infantry. Many of the men of Company E, hard hit and exhausted in their efforts to wade ashore, flopped on the sand and crawled in ahead of the tide; nearly half of them did not survive. Because of the swamping of most of the DD tanks and immediate enemy destruction of five of the company of mediums beached from LCT's, the 16th Infantry had initially only a third of the planned armor support. Those tanks available went into action on the beach between the St. Laurent and Colleville exits.
The experience of the 16th Infantry's later waves was similar to that of [later assault waves of] the 116th. Losses were lighter but the confusion and intermingling of units on the beaches became more serious. The two remaining companies (G and H) of the 2d Battalion followed by the 1st Battalion landed about where planned, due north of Colleville. The 3d Battalion completed landing on the left shortly after 0800. The 3d Battalion headquarters, however, landed to the west and could not join its troops for several hours. The 16th Infantry suffered another misfortune when the regimental executive officer, coming in with the first section of the headquarters, was killed together with thirty-five of his men. The commander, Col. George A. Taylor, did not arrive until 0815 with the second headquarters section.
Command was generally one of the gravest problems faced by assault units, not only because officer casualties were high and mislanding of command groups had left many units leaderless, but also because of extreme difficulties of communication. Three-quarters of the 116th Infantry's radios were destroyed or useless. Furthermore, in the confusion of the mixed units, which were under heavy fire in some places, their men huddled along the shingle embankment or sea wall and generally shaken by the shock of the first few minutes of severe action, it would have been impossible for any commander to exercise control over more than a small group of men on a relatively narrow sector of the front.
In these first few hours on OMAHA Beach, the OVERLORD operation faced its gravest crisis. Deprived of the expected air support by accident of weather and preceded by a generally ineffective beach drenching, the 1st Division had gone in against the one sector of the Normandy coast that had anything like the kind of cordon defense which Field Marshal Rommel counted on to hold and smash the Allies on the beaches. Instead of attacking in the sector of one regiment of an overextended static division as expected, General Huebner's troops hit on the front of a full attack infantry division, the 352d, whose presence in the coastal zone had been missed by Allied intelligence even though it had been in place for almost three months.
To the German officer in command of the fortifications at Pointe et Raz de la Percee it looked in these first hours as though the invasion had been stopped on the beaches. He noted that the Americans were lying on the shore seeking cover behind the obstacles, that ten tanks and a “great many other vehicles” were burning. The fire of his own positions and the artillery, he thought, had been excellent, causing heavy losses. He could see the wounded and dead lying on the sand.
Sketchy reports to V Corps and First Army must have painted very much the same picture for the American command. From a DUKW cruising 500 to 1,000 yards offshore, Col. Benjamin B. Talley, the assistant chief of staff of V Corps, radioed General Gerow what he could observe of the progress of the landings. Observation was difficult, and on the whole Colonel Talley refrained from reporting mere pessimism. However, he had to report something of the evident disorganization. He could see that the beaches were jammed with infantrymen and that enemy artillery and machine gun fire was still effective. He sent a message to that effect about 0930. What particularly concerned him was the fact that reinforcing waves were being held up by the continued enemy opposition and the LCT's were milling around offshore like "a stampeded herd of cattle," although some of the more daring commanders took their craft into the hail of enemy fire and beached them. This situation seemed to Talley to continue without alleviation until midmorning, and it was the situation conveyed to Generals Gerow and Bradley.
Already, however, as Talley sent forward his discouraging reports, the crisis was bit by bit dissolving. Among the groups of scared, tired riflemen huddled along the beach were a few intrepid leaders-officers, noncoms, and privates on whose individual backs the big responsibility at the moment lay. They began by example and exhortation to prod the men to get up, leave such poor shelter as they had found, and walk or crawl across the beach flat and up the hills where the enemy was dug in with rifles, mortars, and machine guns. From the larger perspective the combined weight of Allied arms was gradually wearing down the defenders. The 916th Regiment in the center of the 352d Division sector, while reporting that the landings had been frustrated, added that its own casualties were mounting chiefly from the heavy Allied naval fire and that consequently reinforcements were needed. Reinforcements, however, could not immediately be spared since they were much more urgently needed elsewhere.
The gravest immediate threat for the Germans arose to the east of V Corps where the British assault cracked through the coast defenses in some places during the first few hours. The British Second Army attacked with three divisions abreast under control of 1 and 30 Corps. Immediately on the flank of the American attack, the British 50th Division landed two infantry brigades supported by tanks of the 8th Armoured Brigade and assault teams of the 79th Armoured Division and the 47th Royal Marine Commando. The troops touched down approximately on time at 0725.
Opposition was heavy at certain points, but on the whole it was much less determined than at OMAHA. In the 50th Division zone le Hamel, strongly defended by the 1st Battalion, 916th Regiment, resisted until late in the day. To the east, however, the British division's left brigade struck a soft spot in the German defenses. The strong point at la Rivière held out only a few hours and when it fell at about 1000 its defenders, the 441st Ost Battalion, attached to the 716th Division, broke and pulled out, leaving the road to Bayeux open. This development, however, was not known to the British. Opposition continued to be reported south of Buhot, at Ryes, St. Sulpice, and Summervieu. It was always difficult in the early stages of the assault properly to distinguish enemy delaying action from major opposition or to discover where the holes were in the German defense. The 50th Division, moreover, still had only its assault forces ashore. Rising tide had prevented effective clearance of underwater obstacles. Enemy opposition and mines delayed the opening of beach exits. Caught in the resulting congestion, the two follow-up brigades of the 50th Division were two hours late in landing. When they did arrive, they found their assembly areas still not entirely cleared of enemy. Elements of the 352d Division, in fact, were still on the Meuvaines ridge after midday.
From the German point of view the crumbling of the 441st Ost Battalion was immediately critical. The gap had to be plugged at once. The 915th Regiment reinforced (LXXXIV Corps reserve) had been stationed near Bayeux and had often practiced just the maneuver now required-counterthrust, toward Crépon. But earlier in the morning (at 0400) the 915th had been ordered to the Carentan- Isigny area to attack reported large-scale enemy airborne landings between the Vire and Douve Rivers. The report was discovered to be unfounded at just about the time the hole in the 716th Division opened up. Threatened with having his whole right flank rolled up, Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss, the commanding general of the 352d Division, secured corps approval for the return of the 915th Regiment. But an hour was consumed trying to reach the regiment. Then it had to countermarch almost twenty miles from a point nearly five miles west of the Forêt de Cerisy. The march was made partly on foot, partly by bicycle and French motor vehicles which suffered numerous mechanical breakdowns. Another three hours passed before even a portion of the unit was in position to attack. That delay proved crucial, for in those hours much happened to change the situation on OMAHA completely.
On OMAHA Beach the troops of V Corps in order to reach their assembly areas had to cross a beach flat, varying in width from a few yards at each end to about 200 yards in the center, and climb steep bluffs behind. Although the beach flat offered only patches of tall marsh grass for concealment, the bluffs had irregularities that could provide cover for individual riflemen. The plan called for clearing five exit roads from the beach and an advance inland generally along the axis of these roads. But despite naval bombardment and tank fire from the beach on enemy positions defending these roads all remained active during the first two hours of the assault. Movement off the beach, in consequence, at first took place between the exits. It began before 0800 in a number of independent actions by groups of men, never more than of company size and often much smaller. Some of the attacks had tank fire support; others were materially aided by the bold action of destroyers which came within a few hundred yards of the beach and delivered direct fire wherever they could observe enemy activity.
Penetrations in the 16th Infantry zone were made between the St. Laurent and Colleville exits and up the draw on the extreme eastern flank of the beach. The former breach was opened up by two companies of the 2d Battalion, 16th Infantry. Company G and a section of Company E made separate attacks at about the same time and only a few yards apart. After blowing gaps through the wire beyond the shingle embankment the two groups crossed the flats and converged on the lower slopes of the bluff. But despite some effort to co-ordinate the advance the "companies" continued independently, threading their way through mine fields that took some casualties and slowed the advance. Company G, covered by the fire of their 60-mm. mortars and light machine guns emplaced on the beach, gained the top of the bluff against only light enemy opposition and pushed inland. Company E (consisting of twenty-three men under 2d Lt. John M. Spalding) on reaching the top of the hill turned west and attacked the rear of the enemy fortifications defending the east side of the St. Laurent exit. It was a typical coastal position including pillboxes and a maze of communicating trenches. The garrison, men of the 916th Regiment, caught by surprise and demoralized by naval fire hitting just below the top of the bluff, fought a confused battle for about two hours before an officer was cornered and forced with a group of about twenty men to surrender. Although Lieutenant Spalding had too few men to mop up the area, his action was the first step in clearing a vehicle exit from the beach. In the meantime most of the 2d and 1st Battalions of the 16th Infantry had followed Company G's route up the bluffs, on order of Colonel Taylor, regimental commander, who on his arrival on the beach at 0815 had begun organizing his men and pushing them forward.
The 3d Battalion, 16th Infantry, at the same time had opened its own path inland at the draw northeast of Colleville. Under covering fire from tanks on the beach and naval guns, 3d Battalion units made a direct attack on the enemy strong point defending this draw and by 0900 had, with surprisingly small losses, succeeded in subduing it.
Improvisation and courageous personal leadership in the first hours had taken considerable numbers of troops off the beach where for a time it had looked as though they might be stopped. However, the initial successes were limited by the fact that the infantry had very few heavy weapons, no supporting artillery, and, since the beach exits had not been cleared, little prospect of getting tank support or large-scale supplies or reinforcements. The beaches themselves remained under heavy enemy fire and on most sectors no gaps had been blown through the obstacles. The obstacles submerged by the rising tide materially increased the difficulties of approaching the beach. Landing craft became more and more congested offshore. When shortly after 1000 the 18th Infantry began landing in column of battalions in the 16th Infantry zone, it must have looked to them as though little progress of any kind had been made in the assault. The enemy apparently still had control of the high ground above the beach; American troops still seemed pinned behind the shingle embankment and vehicles were piled up along the narrow strip of beach.
In breaking this deadlock during the next hour, naval intervention played an important part. At about 1030 two landing craft, LCT 30 and LCI(L) 44, steamed full ahead through the obstacles off the Colleville beaches, firing all weapons at enemy strong points guarding the Colleville draw. The craft continued to fire after beaching. Not only did their action prove that the obstacles could be breached by ramming, but their fire, though failing to neutralize German positions in the Colleville draw, had at least a heartening effect on the assault troops. At about the same time two destroyers approached to within 1,000 yards of the beach and shelled enemy positions from les Moulins eastward. Under cover of this fire engineers of the 37th and 146th Engineer Combat Battalions bulldozed two gaps through the dune line on either side of the St. Laurent exit, filled the antitank ditch, and cleared the mine fields. The resistance east of this draw had already been neutralized by the 16th Infantry. While the engineers worked, heavy weapons of the 3d Battalion, 116th Infantry, contained other enemy defenses still in action. A pillbox west of the draw was reduced by skillfully directed destroyer fire at about 1130. The Germans in this last organized defense at the St. Laurent draw surrendered to the 2d Battalion of the 18th Infantry, which had begun landing at about 1000. Thus, in little over an hour, concerted bold action had wrought the most substantial improvement on the beach since H Hour. Reinforcements were coming ashore, and most important of all a road was at last open to move vehicles inland.
In the meantime the battles inland were already being joined. The troops who gained the top of the bluffs by midmorning were scattered groups, a small percentage of the assault battalions, who were incapable of carrying out the D-Day advances as planned. Their objectives at first were simply to reach the various battalion assembly areas. Because of their small numbers and the difficulty of control in the hedgerow country their actions were fragmented, and because they completely lacked both armored and artillery support their movements could be, and constantly were, checked by small enemy prepared positions seldom held in even as much as company strength.
Under the circumstances, this scattered resistance by small enemy groups constituted in sum a considerable obstacle to American advance. Furthermore, sporadic and uncoordinated as it seemed, it was in general the kind, though not quite the scale, of defense that the Germans had planned. Determined resistance in coastal positions, even though isolated or bypassed, did succeed at first in splintering the attacking forces so that only weak, disorganized elements could penetrate the hinterland. Continued, though relatively feeble, nodal defense inland during the day had the further effect of hindering reorganization and coordinated American action. So far the theory of coastal defense seemed justified in practice. That nothing came of this initial success was due, first, to the Germans' lack of reserves with which to counterattack the relatively weak penetrations, and, second, to the fact that, while the American ground attack had locally and temporarily been splintered, the vast supporting naval and air power was practically unopposed. By dominating the battlefield, planes and naval guns smashed such German reserves as could be gathered for a counterthrust and so gave the fragmented V Corps infantry a chance to recover, rebuild, and again become a ground army superior in numbers and equipment to anything that the Germans could thereafter muster to meet them.
Between St. Laurent and Colleville a whole series of confused and generally uncoordinated actions were taking place during the remainder of D Day as parts of two battalions of the 16th Infantry, supported during the afternoon by the 18th Infantry, attempted to maneuver south to positions along the beachhead maintenance line. Company G, the first unit to move inland in this area, at first made rapid progress, but an attack against Colleville drew an enemy counterattack that put the company on the defensive for the rest of the day. Elements of the 1st Battalion fought separate actions in the same general area attempting to clean up isolated enemy riflemen and machine gun positions.
As the 18th Infantry landed, Brig. Gen. Willard G. Wyman, the assistant division commander and senior army commander ashore, had diverted all three battalions to-take over the missions of the 16th Infantry. The 2d Battalion, going to the assistance of the 2d Battalion, 16th Infantry, at Colleville, passed to the west of Company G and at dark halted just south and southeast of the town. The 3d Battalion, at first ordered to capture Formigny and Surrain, was held up so long by small arms harassing fire that its orders were changed and it was sent to the high ground south of the highway to tie in with 16th Infantry on the left and the 115th on the right. The 1st Battalion was directed into the same general area with orders to attack Surrain, but at dark was still north of the St. Laurent-Colleville road.
The St. Laurent-Colleville sector was still considered weak. When the 26th Infantry, the first of the follow-up forces, landed in the evening, two battalions were ordered to take defensive positions southeast of St. Laurent ready to attack toward Formigny. The remaining battalion backed up the left flank where the 3d Battalion, 16th Infantry, with about one hundred men had managed to occupy le Grand Hameau. To help hold the position during the night seventeen tanks were moved up from the beach....
[The situation on Utah beach] had its weaknesses at the end of D-Day, but on the whole it was in a sound position, smaller than planned but better organized and stronger than might have been expected....
The situation on the left at OMAHA was quite different. The main V Corps position at the end of the day was the narrow sector between St. Laurent and Colleville, a toehold on the enemy shore nowhere more than a mile and a half deep....
The failure of the Germans to exploit the weakness of V Corps was the result quite simply of their own greater weakness. During the first few hours it looked as though the OMAHA assault had been stopped, and the chief concern of the 352d Division was with its right flank which was threatened by the British penetration near Meuvaines. To meet this the LXXXIV Corps reserve, the reinforced 915th Regiment (Kampfgruppe Meyer) had been ordered to attack in the direction of Crépon. By 1100 the division commander, General Kraiss, began to consider the situation in his center more serious in the light of additional information on the whole invasion front. The 709th Division opposing U.S. VII Corps was reporting strong armored reinforcements landed from the sea. At the same time the British were building up their beachhead. A concentration of shipping observed off St. Laurent was thought to indicate Allied intention to reinforce what had heretofore been considered minor penetrations in the St. Laurent area. General Kraiss concluded (apparently for the first time) that the Allies were planning a two-pronged attack on Bayeux from bridgeheads at St. Laurent and Meuvaines. The 2d Battalion of the 915th Regiment was therefore split off from the force on its way toward Crépon and together with one antitank company (with twelve self-propelled 75-mm. antitank guns) was attached to the 916th Regiment in the center of the division sector. The infantry reinforcements moved into the Colleville area in the early afternoon but reported that their counterattack had been stopped by firm American resistance and that they had suffered heavy losses.
The body of Kampfgruppe Meyer in the meantime advanced toward the area Bazenville-Villiers-le-Sec whence it planned to attack to Crépon. By the time it reached its assembly area at about 1730 it found the British already in possession. The units on the right were able to withdraw to St. Gabriel where they were joined by the ten assault guns of the Kampfgruppe. But the infantry battalion under direct command of Colonel Meyer on the left brushed with British forces near Bazenville. Meyer was killed and the battalion lost contact with other German units for several hours. It seems clear that Meyer's forces made no concerted attack, but were chewed up in small defensive actions. The assault guns scored the only success of the day in knocking out four British tanks near Brecy. On the other hand four of the guns were themselves lost, possibly to British naval fire. Out of the entire Kampfgruppe only about ninety men escaped. In the evening these remnants were attached to the 726th Regiment, which was ordered to establish a defensive line: Coulombs-St. Gabriel-the Seulles River west to Esquay-sur-Seulles-Hill 64 (west of Bazenville)-the Gronde River to Asnelles-sur-Mer. The plan for 7 June on this front was simply to muster all available troops including artillery units in Kampfgruppen to prevent a British break-through into Bayeux.
In the meantime the commander of the British 50th Division had decided to halt on a line north and northeast of the city roughly between Vaux-sur-Orne and Vaux-sur-Seulles. He had been advancing against very slight opposition, but because of the delays in getting started he feared that he could not occupy Bayeux and organize a proper defense before dark. He ordered the attack to be resumed at daylight.
Most of the countermeasures initiated by OB WEST and Army Group B on D Day were directed against the British. Because the British had established the most extensive beachhead, their landings seemed to constitute the main Allied effort. Matching the success of the 50th Division immediately on the flank of U.S. V Corps, the 3d Canadian Division, landing on beaches near Courseulles, had advanced from three to six miles and had sent armored patrols as far as Bretteville l'Orgueilleuse some ten miles from the beach. On its left the 3d British Division advanced beyond Biéville to within about two miles of Caen. East of the Orne River the two parachute brigades of the 6th Airborne Division had successfully accomplished their missions of seizing bridges at Bénouville and destroying the enemy coastal battery at Merville. Although the advances of all British units fell short of their objectives (particularly in the failure to take either Caen or Bayeux), they nevertheless represented the widest and deepest penetration on the Allied front. Besides, they broke through what the Germans considered an especially vital portion of the defense. Caen was the gateway to the open country constituting the best tank route to Paris. In German eyes it was therefore the key to their whole position in France.
At 0500 Army Group B released the 21st Panzer Division (Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtinger) to Seventh Army control in order to counterattack British airborne landings east of the Orne River. For the attack the division lacked half of its infantry, one artillery battalion, and the antiaircraft and antitank battalions. These units, located on both sides of the Orne River, had been attached to the 716th Division after the seaborne landings began. General Feuchtinger organized the remainder of his troops and started them northward. But, while still on the approach march, at about noon he was ordered to cross the Orne and make his attack west of the river to counter directly the threat to Caen. Delayed in passing through Caen where only one bridge over the Orne was still usable, Feuchtinger could not jump off until 1600. Then, with his troops organized in two regimental combat teams, he attacked the British 3d Division from about the line St. Contest-Hérouville. The attack was heavily resisted and made little progress along the Orne. But to the west one battalion struck through to Cresserons and sent elements to the coast. A few stragglers got into a Luftwaffe communications bunker near Douvres where they held out until 17 June, but the bulk of the battalion after being badly mauled pulled out. Before dark Feuchtinger halted the attack all along the line and ordered his units to dig in only a few hundred yards north of the line of departure. He tied in with infantry units of the division fighting east of the Orne.
Feuchtinger's attack, stopped before it had achieved anything, was the only large-scale counterattack on D Day. *2*
At midnight General Kraiss reported his situation to General Marcks at corps. He was not sanguine. He thought his present forces might be sufficient to hold off enemy attacks on 7 June but his losses were so heavy that he would need reinforcements for the following day's fighting. In the coastal positions, he said, he had suffered a total loss of men and equipment. His casualties for the day were about 1,200, or nearly one-fifth of his combat effectives. General Marcks replied that the reserves which could be spared to the 352d Division had already been sent forward. Kraiss would simply have to hold on as tenaciously as possible with what he had.
*1* Harrison writes:
This is frankly a guess, based on a number of estimates of various dates and various headquarters none of which agree. Under the Army's present casualty reporting system, it is unlikely that accurate figures of D-Day losses by unit will ever be available.
The V Corps History gives D-Day losses as 2,374, of which the 1st Division lost 1,190, the 29th Division lost 743, and corps troops 441. The after action report of the 1st Division and the 29th Division history both scale down their own losses slightly. See Joseph H. Ewing, 29 Let's Go (Washington 1948), p. 306. Source for the 1st Division report is its own G-1 report of daily casualties; source for the 29th Division figures is not given. On 8 June the 1st Division G-1 issued a 'corrected' casualty report for D-Day and D plus 1 which reduced total losses reported for the two days from 1,870 to 1,036. See V Corps G-3 Jnl. Neither the original report nor the corrected one conforms to the division G-1's accounting in his monthly report of operations. See study of First Army casualties during June 1944, prepared by Royce L. Thompson, MS Hist Div files.
[To see the 29th Division figures Harrison refers to, go to 29th Div casualty figures 6-7 June 1944. For discussion on D-Day casualties by an astute military historian, see C.P. Stacey's calculations in D-Day casualty estimates.] [Return to text]