U.S. Airborne in Cotentin Peninsula



June 6, 1944: Massacre at HEMEVEZ

303rd Troop Carrier Squadron, part of the 442nd Troop Carrier Group, is based at Fulbeck (England). It will be one of the units to carry the US Airborne troops to Cotentin during the night of June 6, 1944.
At 0019 hrs, C-47 #42-92382 with chalk number 17 as well as 44 others of serial #26 take off from England heading for Normandy.
The planned Drop Zone is DZ "T" and located at 49°25' north, 1°22' west. It is near the village of Le Ham.
At 0244 hrs, plane #17 drops its stick of paratroopers, they are part of the HQ Company, 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne. Fourteen men are jumping but the fifteenth one stays on board after his reserve chute accidentally opens (Private Tress B. BALCH).

Private Ashton J. Landry - 507 PIRPrivate Ashton J. LANDRY made a mistake that almost costed him his life: right after landing he climbs on a hill exposing himself and is shot in the leg by a patrolling german soldier; quick to react, LANDRY eliminates him with a burst from his Tommy-Gun.
He fixes himself up then tries to locate his comrads. He meets two of them then finds the rest of the team including Lieutenant Robert W. SHUTT. 13 of them regrouped, the fourteenth, private Fred G. WONDELL is badly wounded with a broken pelvis and will be patched up and hidden in a nearby shelter. He will eventually be recovered and returned to the States.

The drop pattern is located along the railway Cherbourg / Paris and near the village of Hemevez, "La casse à Genêts".
Looking for information, lieutenant SHUTT sends Ashton LANDRY, who speaks french, on patrol with Charles L. WRIGHT et Paul D. MOORE.

The nearest farm is called "Castel"; they enter it with difficulty to find the inhabitants both happy and frightened: a german patrol usually passes by at this hour of the morning. One of the young girls lead them to the stables were they remain hidden. Like Mr LANDRY would say: "Thanks to the german army to be equiped with those heavy hobnail boots!!".
After leaving this place, they hear a firefight with rifles, machineguns; a little while later, they would watch seven of their comrads made prisoners, with their hands on their necks and freed of their belts, lined in front of a machinegun. He recognizes two of his best friends: Daniel B. TILLMAN et Robert G. WATSON.

Ashton J. Landry, center behind the mortarMoving from shelter to shelter, they will remain hidden in recent bomb craters and resupplied by two young girls. Unfortunately they will be discovered by some german soldiers and taken captive.
Locked up in a building, they join about twenty other american prisoners. Ashton LANDRY, noticing they were guarded by only one soldier and after observing the guard pattern, will escape with two of its comrads.
Having been detained for only one hour, they will use the night to leave the place.

Along the way they come across a crashed glider and dead soldiers lying around and pick up weapons and K rations.
While foraging the place, Charles WRIGHT is hit by enemy fire. Healed of the spot, he'll be able to carry on fleeing this area still occupied by the germans.

Six days after landing they would finally reach the lines of the 82nd Airborne's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and will be interrogated by General GAVIN at his headquarters.

On February 6, 1945, Ashton LANDRY is summoned at SHAEF in Versailles to complete the investigations of the HEMEVEZ atrocities.

The ongoing researches.
Map of the eventsThe researches started in June 1994.
Mr. Henri THIEBOT attends the ceremonies of the 507th P.I.R. at Graignes, another place of massacre. One veteran from this regiment opens conversation. Of french origins, he explains that he witnessed a killing on June 6, 1944 but can't recall the exact place, locating it about 30kms North of Graignes.
Mr. THIEBOT, after investigation in the vicinity of le HAM finds the exact spot of this tragedy: HEMEVEZ.
In 1997, Michel GAUDRY picks up the investigation with Mr. THIEBOT, corresponding via mail and telephone with Mr. LANDRY.
Circumstances of the massacre are finally known and the name of the victims revealed.

Then Mr. Ashton J. LANDRY passes away in 2003. It won't be until early June 2004 that these revelations will be confirmed.


In MEMORY of the paratroopers murdered on June 6, 1944 at HEMEVEZ :

- Pfc Daniel B. TILLMAN
- Pvt Robert G. WATSON
- Pvt Anthony J. HITZTALER
- Pvt Robert E. WERNER
- Pvt Delmar C. Mc ELHANEY
- Pvt Andrew W. KLING
- Pfc Elsworth M. HECK

© Michel Gaudry for http://www.6juin1944.com - 2004
Photos courtesy of Ashton J. Landry's family