On the next pages we make a tour in the northwest of the Cotentin. We start with the outbreak towards Montebourg and Valognes, from the surroundings of Ste.Mère-Eglise. The complete tour is around 150 kilometers, and can be done in one day.

The target for the American troops landing on Utah Beach on June 6th, 1944, was a line in the north which could be drawn from Quinéville, Montebourg, Le Ham and the river Merderet. But because of the chaoas around Ste.Mère-Eglise, this could only be accomplished 10 days later, after heavy fighting. A breakout with units of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 4th Infantry Division began on June 8, heading north, form the enclave of Ste.Mère-Eglise.

Just on the outskirts of Ste. Mère-Eglise, on the N 13,
This Sturmgeschütz 40 was put out of action on June 7 by a 57mm gun
fired by J. Atchley (who was awarded with the DSC)
(Atchley was from H Comp. 505th PIR, 82nd US Airborne Division)

The 3rd Battalion, 505th PIR, 82nd Airborne Div. moved right of the Carentan-Valognes railway track, heading forMagneville. 1st and 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Division had as jump of point right and left from around Fresville. If you want to follow this same route, leave Ste.Mère-Eglise on the north side of town, parallel to the N 13. After some 2 kilometers, you cross the highway N 13 an turn right towards Fresville. The first nut to be cracked, was the German defense near Neuville-au-Plain. German troops overhere consistedin this area, were elements of the 709- en de 243 infantery divisions, and units of the Sturm Bataljon AOK 7. After three attacks, the Germans finally retreated from Neuville-au-Plain. To accomplish this the para’s of the 82nd were reinforced by GI’s from the 8th Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.

The American artillery had a cruscial roll,…
An M114 155 mm howitzer is brought in position

At 06.30 hours, on June 9, the attack was continued after a 45 minute shelling by artillery. The 3rd and 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment, 4th ID. moved between Fresville and Grainville towards Magneville. The 1st Battalion, 8th Reg., to the right of Fresville, were pinned down and were stalled for a long time. The other two battalions crossed a meadow, but run into a creek, and could not move further. To the left moved the 2nd Battalion from the 325 Glider Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. They reach Le Ham. But the Germans had dug themselves in east of the village, and those had to be destroyed first. The 456th Field Artillery Battalion was in position on June 11, and on 10.15 hours, a barrage of 15 minutes was shot into the German positions. After the shelling, the 2nd Bat. attacked under cover of a smokescreen, but they had to retreat around noon when the Germans counter attacked. But when dusk set in, the Americans attacked again and took Le Ham and secure the bridge across the Merderet. On June 13, 359th Regiment, 90th Division took over the positions from the 82nd Airborne Division.

An 8 inch M1 Howitzer from a Field Artillery Battalion
is pulled by a High Speed Tractor M4 heading for Montebourg

The 3rd Battalion 505th PIR near Granville was pinned down on June 9, and had to call in artillery. During the evening a two hour shelling was planned, but because of a shortage of shells, this was canceled.

On June 9, L and I Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Reg. reached the creek, but it was too wide to cross. Bu I Comp. found a small part of the creek and crossed it. They made heavy losses but they took possession of a large area with a large hangar. I Company take refuge in a appel orchard, but are isolated from other units. But help was on it’s way, and with help from L Comp, the hangar is taken, but both companies were now pinned down. K Company of the 3rd Battalion took defensive positions on the right flank.

The frontline (the white line behind the railroad track) on June 11, 1944

June 10, when E Company moved out to reinforce the other companies, they are greeted with German shells. The losses were high, 50 to 60 men were lost, plus all the mortars and machineguns. At the end of the day, around 19.00 hours, Sherman tanks from Company A, 70 Tank Battalion surrounded the Germans in Magneville. The Germans have 8,8cm guns, but have to surrender to A Comp, 8th Reg. Some 100 Germans are made prisoner, and at 21.00 hours, the men from A Comp dig themselves in. Meanwhile, 8th Reg. reinforce the rightside of Ecausseville to protect the 2nd and 3rd Battalion.

The view from Le Ham towards Cou d'argent
(a difficult terrain with all those streams and small rivers)

After reaching Fresville, head for Magneville. Turn right here across the railroad, to Le Ham (follow the D 269 all the time). In Le Ham nothing shows that some heavy fighting was done here. But the village is nice to visit. A couple of streams run through this area, among them the Merderet, and it shows how difficult it must have been for the troops, to cross this region. Looking west, you see a defenders dream, a dense forest, an obstacle that was waiting for the American troops.

The D 42 with the bridge across the Merderet on the outskirt of Le Ham

Return towards Magneville. When you cross the railroad again, go left, on the D 510, towards Ecausseville. In a few moments the large hangar comes into view. This is the hangar which saw a lot of action, and the 8th Regiment, 4th Division became the victors.

The hangar of Ecausseville

The hangar at Ecausseville is one of the original two, who once stood here. The base was constructed in 1916 by the French navy during the First World war, so airships could from here patrol the waters against German U-Boats.The first hangar is long ago demolished, but the second, which was completed in 1919, still stands. Some years ago, it was opend for the public, and is under reconstruction ever since to become a museum.

The hangar of Ecausseville after the Americans took possession

During the Second World War, the hangar was used by the Germans, to store material for building the Atlantic Wall in this region. After the landing by the Allies on June 6th, this became a goal for the 4th Division as a starting point towards Montebourg. When the 8th Regiment took hold of the hangar, this became the jump of point for Montebourg.

When the surroundings were secured, the terrain around the hangar was used to contain temporarily German prisoners of war. The maintenance for the American vehicles was done inside the huge hangar. Mechanics from the 105th Battalion and the 860th Ordnance Company had a fantastic space to work in comfort. Nowadays, you can still see the evidence of their presence once, a lot of graffiti and cartoon figures adore the walls.

Matthew Abbott from Pennsylvania had his workspace in 'bay no.7'

The complete hangar is built out of thin sheets of concrete, resting on a concrete skeleton. The hangar is 150 meters long, 32 meters high and 40 meters wide. The huge doors also consist of thin concrete sheets, and to hold them in place during strong winds, heavy counter weights of thirty ton were added. To open and close the doors, they were running on rails. One of the counter weights is preserved, and can be found near the entrance of the hangar.

One of the counter weights near the doors of the hangar

Between 1966 and 1967, a pit of five meters deep was made, which contained a cable winch to secure an airship. This airship was meant for testing a nucleair H-bomb. The picture below shows that this airship was a big boy, which fit jus tinto the hangar.

Above; the airship was a tight fit into this hangar
below: the pit for the cable winch

The museum is still an ongoing project, but can be visited, and I recommend you do. A pity is that all the text in the museum is (still) in French. It’s open for visits in April and May on the Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sundays from 14.00 hours until 18.00 hours. In June it’s open from the 1st till the 13th every day from 14.00 until 18.00 hours. From 14 till 30 June, only on Saturday and Sundays from 14.00 until 18.00 hours. In July and August every day, from 10.00 until 19.00 hours. In September on the Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sundays from 14.00 hours until 18.00 hours. In October only in the weekends. The times for a visit varies a lot, so be prepared. The entrance fees are 5 € for adults and 2 € for kids (under eight are free of charce). With the Normandy pass you can expect a reduction.

Continue your tour towards Ecausseville on the D 420 towards Montebourg.

For Montebourg and further towards Barfleur,