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The Brécourt Manor Assault (June 6, 1944)
during the U.S. parachute
assault of the Normandy Invasion
of World War II is
often cited as a classic example of small-unit tactics and
overcoming a larger enemy force.
As a result of the crash of a C-47 killing its company commander,
command of Company
E, 2nd Battalion, 506th
Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division
devolved to the company executive officer, 1st Lt. Richard
Winters. After linking up with his parent unit at the hamlet of
Le Grand Chemin on the morning of June 6, 1944, Winters was ordered
up front away from his company. With minimal instructions of
"There's fire along that hedgerow there. Take care of
it," and no
briefing, Winters found himself tasked to destroy a German artillery
battery. The battery had initially been reported to be 88 mm
guns firing onto causeway exit #2 leading off Utah Beach and disrupting
landing forces of the U.S. 4th
Infantry Division advancing inland on this route. Several other
units had stumbled onto the German position earlier in the morning
and had been repulsed.
After a reconnaissance by Winters at about 8:30 AM, Winters
collected a team of thirteen men from his own and other companies.
Knowing little more than a general location of the gun emplacements
south of Le Grand Chemin and not even knowing what was on the other
side of the hedgerow, Winters' team attacked Brecourt Manor,
located three miles southwest of Utah Beach and north of the
village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont.
There he discovered No. 6 Battery of the 90th Artillery
consisting of four 105 mm howitzers connected by trenches and defended by a platoon of soldiers.
Winters held that the unit was part of the 6th
Fallschirmjägerregiment (6th Parachute Regiment) with emplaced MG42 machine guns. The 1st
Battalion of the 6th had been ordered to Sainte Marie-du-Mont from
Carentan during the afternoon but arrived after dark. The 1st
Company 919th Grenadier Regiment (709th Infantry Division) was posted at
Sainte Marie-du-Mont and was responsible for the area. Elements of
1058th Grenadier Regiment (91st
Luftlandedivision) were defending throughout the vicinity, and the
artillery was part of this division also. The 795th Georgian
Battalion, attached to the 709th ID, was to the northwest at
Turqueville but is less likely to have been present because of
terrain difficulties. Whichever unit defended the battery, the U.S.
paratroopers were opposed by approximately sixty German soldiers.
The crew originally assigned to the four 105mm guns had
apparently deserted during the night of the airborne landings. Oberstleutnant Frederich von der
Heydte of the German 6th Parachute Regiment, upon discovering
they had been abandoned while observing the landings at Utah Beach, travelled to
Carentan where he ordered
his 1st Battalion to find men and work on the artillery
Upon arrival at the battery location, Winters made his plan. He
positioned a pair of M1919 .30 caliber machine
guns for covering fire and sent several soldiers (2nd Lt. Lynn D.
Compton, Pvt. Donald Malarkey and Sgt. William J.
Guarnere) to one flank to
destroy a machine gun position with grenades and provide
While the trenches connecting the artillery positions provided
the Germans with an easy way to supply and reinforce the guns, they
also proved to be their biggest weakness. After destroying the
first gun position, Winters and the rest of his team used the
trenches as covered approaches to attack the remaining guns in
turn. Each gun was destroyed by placing a block of TNT down its barrel and using German
stick grenades to set off the charges.
Reinforcements from Company D, led by 2nd Lt. Ronald C. Speirs,
arrived to complete the assault on the fourth and last gun. Speirs
had a reputation as an excellent and extremely aggressive officer
and he led his men against the last gun position by running outside
the trenches and exposing themselves to enemy fire.
After the four guns were disabled, Winters' team came under
heavy machine-gun fire from Brecourt Manor and withdrew. He had
discovered a German map in one gun position that was marked with
the locations of all German artillery and machine gun positions
throughout that area of the Cotentin Peninsula. This was an
invaluable piece of intelligence and was passed up the chain of
Winters also directed the fire of two American tanks which arrived later from Utah Beach to
eliminate remaining German resistance.
Winters lost one man, PFC John D. Hall from an 81mm mortar
platoon, and Private Robert
"Popeye" Wynn was wounded during the attack (Wynn was evacuated
back to England, recovered from his wound and rejoined Easy Company
just before Operation Market Garden).
Another casualty was Warrant Officer Andrew Hill, who was
killed when he came upon the battle while searching for the
headquarters of the 506th PIR. Two soldiers from D Company under
Lt. Speirs' command were also killed as well as one wounded from D
Troops landing at Utah Beach had a relatively easy landing, due
in part to this successful assault. Colonel Robert Sink, the
commander of the 506th PIR, recommended Winters for the Medal of Honor,
but the award was downgraded to the Distinguished
Service Cross due to the policy of only one Medal of Honor
awarded per division which was awarded to Lieutenant
G. Cole. However, at the time of the writing of this article,
there is a campaign to upgrade
Winter's Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor as many
felt he deserved, but the bill has yet to emerge from the U.S.
House Armed Services Committee.
The official Army history of these events on D-Day is quiet
about the battle. Army
historian S. L. A. Marshall interviewed Winters about
the attack, but the interview was not private - many of Winters'
superior officers were present - and, according to his memoir
Beyond Band of Brothers, he may have downplayed his
description of the event to avoid personal accolade and to keep the
account succinct. In fact, Marshall stated in his report that
Winters had about two hundred men under his command. However,
nearly every man involved was later recognized for his role in the
- Robert "Popeye" Wynn
- John Hall
- Andrew Hill
Winters interview with
Winters, Dick Beyond Band of Brothers
The artillery battalions of the 91st Luftlandedivision were
equipped with a mountain howitzer, the 105mm Gebirgshaubitze 40,
whose ammunition was not interchangeable with that of the standard
105mm field howitzer, and which had one unit of fire ("basic load")
available on D-Day.
- ^ A
company of III./1058 defended Pouppeville, the town a mile away
astride beach exit #1
Band of Brothers, Stephen E. Ambrose, ISBN 0-7434-2990-7
Ambrose, Stephen, Band Of Brothers pg.83
Mark Bando's Trigger Time website
states "John D. Halls, ... note the 's' on his last name, was a
member of the 81mm mortar platoon, of Headquarters Co., 2nd
battalion, 506th PIR and according to John Barickman of the same
platoon, it was HALLS who was killed in the Brécourt fight, not
HALL." In Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, The
Man Who Led the Band of Brothers, the biography written by
Larry Alexander, Winters remembers the man as John D. Hall of A
Company, whom he had coached on the regimental basketball team as
the HBO series indicates.
Utah Beach to Cherbourg,
Center of Military History, United States Army