Graignes and the 82nd Airborne Division


Central in the triangle of Carentan(north)-Périers(west)-St-Lô(east) is the village of Graignes. During the night of June 5 and 6, around 170 paratroopers of the 3rd Battalion 507th PIR, 82nd Airborne Division, landed here. The area was flooded when the Germans closed the gates of the river Taute. This 'stick' of para's were dropped over a distance of 5 kilometers, all the way to Tribehou in the south. They assembled on the high hill of Graignes, where they dug them self in at strategic points. The first days were quiet, and the war seemed to pass on Graignes. The spirit was relaxed and joyful. But the first enemy contact came on June 8, in the evening, when a small German convoy of horse drawn vehicles was shot up.

The next morning, Major Charles Johnson, sent seven men to Montmartin to check on a German artillery unit of 200 men strong, that was supposed to bivouac there. Orders were to take no prisoners. Lucky for both sides, the Germans had left when the para's arrived. That same day a motorcycle with sidecar was caught in a crossfire and the drivers killed. June 10, on the same crossroad, a German truck was hit by fire of the para's and four occupant were killed

View from hill into the valley of the river Taute

On Sunday June 11, the Germans finally came in serious numbers towards Graignes. The church was at that time filled with villagers when the announcement was made. They took their changes and stayed in the church when the fighting started. Meanwhile the para's fought the Germans back and at the end of the afternoon the fighting winded down. The villagers left the church and headed for home. When they walked through the German lines, they saw the enormous fighting force of the Hun. They were preparing a new assault. The German force of 2000 men was made up of units of the sinister SS Das Reich Division. These troops were responsible for the massacre of the population of Oradour-sur-Glane (20km west of Limoges). When the villagers had left, the fighting started again with a barrage of artillery on the church, school and other buildings where Americans could be hiding.

The destroyed church of Graignes

At 23.00 hours, the American troops retreated and sought ways to make a clear run for it. The opposition was too overwhelming. The Germans, when entering Graignes, were furious because of their 500 dead and 700 wounded. Not only they robbed the houses, they killed three wounded American soldiers in the church. Two priests, Abbé Leblastier and Père Le Barbanchon, who were also in the church, were also murdered.

In the ruines of the church the priests,
Abbé Leblastier and Père Le Barbanchon share a grave

Seven slightly wounded troopers were taken prisoner by the Germans and taken to le Mesnil-Angot, a few kilometers to the south. Here they were ordered to dig their own graves and were shot by the SS. American para's that could not escape, hid the best they could. One hid in the ruins of the church tower, another found refuge in a bread oven of a farm. Twenty one men escaped trough le Port des Plauques and reached Carentan. June 30 saw the complete evacuation of Graignes. Two women, Mme Pézeril and Mme Dujardin, refused the order and were killed by the Germans.

View on Graignes, on top of a hill, looking from the north

On July 7 the American 30th Infantry Division approached from the east, but because of the terrain difficulties, the advance was slow. On July 9, the 113rd Cavalry Group was given the task to attack. When this group crossed the Taute-Vire canal, the 17th SS Götz von Berlichingen Division retreated from Graignes, never to return again. The village was declared liberated on July 12, 1944.

Graignes, Then and Now

To visit the place of the fighting, follow the 'memorial' signs. When you reach the small headstone for the 507th PIR, take the small street up. When you reach the top, you have a great view over the fields that once were flooded with Taute water and human blood. The destroyed church was never rebuilt. But the church tower was recreated as a remembrance to the people who lost their lives during the fierce fighting over Graignes. On a placard on the old church wall are 66 names, 34 paratroopers, among them Major Johnson, and 32 villagers.

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