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Brécourt Manor Assault
Part of American airborne landings in Normandy
Date June 6, 1944
Location 49°23′17.0″N 1°13′34.0″W / 49.38806°N 1.22611°W / 49.38806; -1.22611Coordinates: 49°23′17.0″N 1°13′34.0″W / 49.38806°N 1.22611°W / 49.38806; -1.22611
La Grand Chemin, France
Result Tactical American Victory
Belligerents
United States United States Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Commanders
Richard Winters
Ronald Speirs
Lynn Compton
Unknown
Strength
13 paratroopers Approx. 60 soldiers
4 machine guns
Casualties and losses
4 dead
2 wounded
20 dead
12 prisoner
4 howitzers disabled

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 leadership in overcoming a larger enemy force.

Contents

Objective

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,"[1] 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 Regiment,[2] consisting of four 105 mm howitzers connected by trenches and defended by a platoon of soldiers.[3]

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,[4] 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 battery.[5]

Battle

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 covering fire.

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.[6]

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 command.

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,[7] 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 Company.

Aftermath

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 Colonel Robert 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.[8] 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 attack.

Medals Awarded

Distinguished Service Cross

Silver Star

Bronze Star


Purple Heart

  • Robert "Popeye" Wynn
  • John Hall
  • Andrew Hill

References

  1. ^ Winters interview with HistoryNet
  2. ^ Winters, Dick Beyond Band of Brothers
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ A company of III./1058 defended Pouppeville, the town a mile away astride beach exit #1
  5. ^ Band of Brothers, Stephen E. Ambrose, ISBN 0-7434-2990-7
  6. ^ Ambrose, Stephen, Band Of Brothers pg.83
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Utah Beach to Cherbourg, Center of Military History, United States Army

External links



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