U.S. Airborne in Cotentin Peninsula



IX Troop Carrier Command

82nd A/B Division
"All American"

101st A/B Division
"Screaming Eagles"

On February 1, 1944 Field Marshall Montgomery presents to the S.H.A.E.F1 the Neptune Plan.
This plan calls for a widening of the invasion front towards West and the addition of two Airborne Divisions. They will be the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions that will have the task to secure and protect the right flank of the Allied landings, in the Cotentin peninsula.

The responsibility for these two divisions was such that the success of the landings at Utah-Beach would rest on their shoulders.

The Objectives :
Capture and hold a bridgehead on the right flank of the landings area, such was the primary role of the two Airborne Divisions.

1 - Coastal sector, behind Utah-Beach : 101st A/B Objectives

Seize and hold four beach Exits coming from Utah-Beach. Destroy the German heavy artillery battery at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville and a buildings complex coded WXYZ at Mezieres. Capture the La Barquette lock, destroy bridges over the Douve River and organize a defensive line to protect the Southern flank.

- DZ "A" : St Martin de Varreville
502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment and 377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion : Seize Exits 3 and 4 at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville and Audouville-la-Hubert. Destroy the German heavy artillery battery at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville and the buildings coded WXYZ at Mezieres.
- DZ "C" : Hiesville
3/501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1 and 2/506th Parachute Infantry Regiment and 101st Airborne Division HQ : Capture Exits 1 and 2 at Poupeville and Houdienville.

Les paras US : les DZ (59Ko)
Assigned Drop Zones
( U.S Army )

- DZ "D" : Angoville au Plain
1 and 2/501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3/506th Parachute Infantry Regiment and C Co 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion : Protect the Southern flank. Capture the La Barquette lock, destroy bridges over the Douve River, and capture the wooden bridges at Le Port near Brevands.
- LZ "E" : Hiesville
Glider, missions 'Chicago' (to arrive LZ at 0400 hrs) and 'Keokuk' (to arrive LZ at 2100 hrs).

2 - The Merderet sector : 82nd A/B Objectives
Jump on both side of the Merderet River West of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Capture Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Capture two causeways at La Fiere and Chef-du-Pont. Destroy bridges over the Douve River at Etienville and Beuzeville-la-Bastille. Establish a bridgehead West of the Merderet and hold the Northwestern flank of the bridgehead.

Force A
- DZ "O"
: Sainte-Mere-Eglise
505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division HQ : Seize Sainte-Mere-Eglise, La Fiere, Chef-du-Pont. Hold a defensive line between Neuville and Baudienville.
- DZ "T" : Amfreville
507th Parachute Infantry Regiment : Hold the La Fiere causeway in support of the 505th PIR. Hold a defensive line between Gourbesville and Le-Hameau-Renouf.
- DZ "N" : Picauville
508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, B Co 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion : Destroy the bridges over the Douve River, establish a secure bridgehead up to Le-Hameau-Renouf.

Embarquement des paras pour la Normandie (44Ko)
Boarding a C-47
( U.S Army )

Force B

- LZ "O" : Sainte-Mere-Eglise
Glider, mission Detroit (to arrive LZ at 0400 hrs).
- LZ "W" : Les Forges
Glider, missions 'Elmira' (to arrive LZ at 2100 hrs), 'Galveston' (to arrive LZ at 0700 hrs on June 7), 'Hackensack' (to arrive LZ at 0900 hrs on June 7).

Force C
Task Force Howell. Support tanks and artillery to arrive by sea during June 6th and will rush to Sainte-Mere-Eglise as fast as possible.

The Invasion :
At 2130 hrs on June 5th twenty C-47 aircraft carrying the pathfinders of two divisions take off from North-Witham air base for the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy. The men carried by these 20 aircraft are the vanguard of the Overlord invasion effort. They precede the selected 13,000 troops of the two divisions and are assigned the task of marking and securing the six Drop Zones chosen for their jumps.

Half an hour after the pathfinders, 801 aircraft approach the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula. Unfortunately they are confronted with a cloudbank and intense German anti-aircraft fire. The weather conditions and German Flak disorganizes the formations and causes the dispersion of many units from their designated drop zones. Most units are dropped several miles from their assigned objectives and it takes them several days to rejoin their units.
Only the 505th PIR experiences a successful drop and manages to regroup expeditiously.

Many men are killed or drown when they land in the flooded Douve and Merderet River marshes or in the flooded area behind Utah-Beach. More than 60% of the attacking forces heavy equipment is also lost.

Fortunately, the wide dispersion of the paratroops also creates confusion among the German defenders. They are unable to determine the purpose, the full strength and objectives of the attacking forces.

Parachutistes dans un C-47 (47Ko)
Paratroopers inside C-47

Intermixed elements from both Airborne Divisions, joined together to take orders from commanders they do not know and take on new assigned objectives. Working hand to hand they form groups and leave to achieve missions that are assigned to them.

The 82nd Airborne Division's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment's 3rd Battalion led by Lt. Col. Edward C. Krause occupied Sainte-Mere-Eglise at 0400 hrs and declared it completely secured at 0500 hrs. The La Barquette lock is taken in the morning by the 501st PIR, the Beach exits held by paratroopers are relieved at 1200 hrs when contact is established with elements of the 4th Infantry Division, which landed at Utah-Beach at 0630 hrs. By nightfall, the defensive line seems to be stabilized on the Eastern side of the Merderet River.

The end of the Day :
A hard fight had been fought on D-Day by the two Divisions. Both divisions had experienced scattered drops, with varying losses in men and material. Initial dispersion was further aggravated by the Normandy terrain (fields with many hedgerows), this made it difficult to assemble and still more difficult to coordinate the manoeuvre of units. Still, the airborne operation was a success.

The 101st Airborne Division had accomplished the most important of its initial missions. Paratroopers held the four Beach exits, the La Barquette lock was occupied but precariously and the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment securely held the northern sector in the vicinity of Foucarville.

The situation of the 82nd Airborne Division was more critical. Sainte-Mere-Eglise was occupied but the faulty drop voided the establishment of a bridgehead on both banks of the Merderet. Many units were isolated west of the Merderet.

At the end of D-Day the western flank of the landings was held, but with heavy losses for two divisions. 2,500 were killed or wounded; many men were alone and isolated in the Norman countryside. Some will wander there for days, others will never be found.

A l'entrée de Ste Mère Eglise (43Ko)
Outside Ste Mere Eglise

(1) S.H.A.E.F : Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force