THE NORTHEAST OF THE COTENTIN:
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)
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
(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.
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
For Montebourg and further towards Barfleur,