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The Assault on Brecourt
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Old 03-09-2009, 07:50 AM
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Default The Assault on Brecourt

D-Day, June 6th, 1944.

Introduction

Five hours before the invasion began, C-47s and gliders made drops of paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions into the peninsula with the objective of disrupting German lines of communications and defenses. While popular historians attribute the cause of the misdrops to heavy anti-aircraft fire and inexperienced pilots, the single, most comprehensive study of the official records, of the commands involved concluded differently. "The evidence indicates that except for slight errors in timing, troop carrier performance was almost flawless until the Normandy coast was reached, and that with one exception most subsequent difficulties may be traced to three factors, clouds, enemy action, and limitations of navigational aids. Of these, the cloudbank over the western Cotentin was the most damaging." (USAF Historical Studies # 97, Airborne Operations in WWII, European Theater , Warren pg. 58).

As day broke the massive invasion of Allied forces rolled in from the sea but was met with heavy resistance from the German coastal defenses. American forces at parts of Utah Beach were taking indirect fire from a battery of 105 mm guns just inland. These guns were situated in a field to the north of an estate known as Brecourt Manor and just south of the hamlet of Le Grand Chemin. It was imperative that these guns were taken out, as they they were being directed by telephone from a forward observation post on the beach.

There is no arguing that the assault at Brecourt Manor was a well-executed operation. Given the task of assaulting the placement, Lt. Richard Winters, Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, collected 13 others, planned and led the assault. As team member Sgt. Carwood Lipton later said, "The attack was a unique example of a small, well-led assault force overcoming and routing a much larger force. It was the high morale of E Company men, the quickness and audacity of the frontal attack, and the fire into their positions from different directions that demoralized the German forces and convinced them that they were being hit by a much larger force." (Band of Brothers, Ambrose pg. 102) After being assigned the task and gathering his team, Winters had everyone drop everything save their guns, ammunition and grenades (D-Day and the Screaming Eagles, Koskimaki pg. 231). The next section of this website chronicles their actions.



Overall map of the area, Brecourt is the gun battery situated just North of Saint-Marie Du Mont (Bottom-Right)


The assault

After a night of havoc with sporadic contact with the enemy, Lt. Richard Winters, Easy Company (506 P.I.R.) managed to collect some of his men and men from other companies. He had landed on the northwest corner of Ste. Mere Eglise and steadily made his way, picking up others, to the east towards the beaches and then south. Eventually he assembled with larger numbers, and moving southward from Le Grand Chemin enemy contact was made; just south of Le Grand Chemin and north of Brecourt Manor a battery of 105 mm guns was shelling Utah Beach. Without realizing most of E Company was still making its way to the assembly point, Lt. Winters was ordered “to take his men” and knock out the placement. Knowing little more than the placement of a machine gun and one artillery piece, Winters and his force of 12 men moved south (Koskimaki, 230 - 231). On scouting the area, Winters found that there were actually four 105 mm guns connected by a trench network and defended from a distance by a collection of German MG42 nests.


Upon arrival to close proximity to the battery, Lt. Winters set up two 30-caliber machine gun positions to act as bases of fire. Pvts. Joe Liebgott and Cleveland Petty were assigned one position, while Pvts. John Plesha and Walter Hendrix manned the second. Sgts. Mike Ranney and Carwood Lipton were sent northwesterly (past the old truck and rubbish pile) to establish covering fire as well. Lipton, with limited visibility, climbed a tree for a better view, but in an exposed position. Sgts. Bill Guarnere and Don Malarkey accompanied Lt Buck Compton down the tree line in a flanking position of the German MG42 nest. Pvts. Joe Liebgott and Cleveland Petty were given the order to commence firing. Lipton and Ranney also began harrassing fire from the tree position. Meanwhile Compton, Malarkey and Guarnere were in position to attack from the German machine gun's right flank from the gun's right flank they threw grenades and began charging in thus knocking out the MG42. Lt. Carwood Lipton later recalled, "And then, just like in the movies, I saw Compton and Guarnere running in and throwing grenades with almost every step." (Koskimaki, pg. 230)




Photograph allegedly from Brecourt site showing one of the 105mm gun

Winters, along with his group (1 on pic above) then charged along the tree line then out through the field to the trench system. The Germans in gun position one were overwhelmed and abandoned the first gun position. What German infantry was left retreated south in the trench system towards the next gun and south across the field towards Brecourt Manor only to be fired on in the open. Contrary to the HBO series depicting Lorraine has having trouble hitting a retreating German, it was Bill Guarnere who actually missed his man. "Guanere missed the ... Jerry, but Winters put a bullet in his back. Guarnere followed that up by pumping the wounded man full of lead with his tommy gun." (Ambrose, 98)


Escape ditch used by the Germans near Brecourt Manor

The assault team now began to take fire from a line of MG42 nests located in the hedges to the west and southwest. Additionally the Germans in the next gun position began to fire and throw grenades. It was here in the north end of the trenches, as gun one was taken and about to be destroyed, that Popeye Wynn was injured by grenade, and Joe Toye had two close calls.

With the first gun under control, the attack on the second gun was put into place, but Winters, sensing a counterattack, checked the trench system. "I flopped down and by lying prone I could look through the connecting trench to the next position, and sure enough there were two of them setting up a machine gun, getting ready to fire. I got the first shot in however, and hit the gunner in the hip. The second...in the shoulder." (Koskimaki, pg 232)

The MG42 fire from the west across the field was almost non- stop at this point, so all activity was limited to a crouch in the trench system. Lipton made his way up to the first gun only to discover that he had left his musette bag with explosives behind. He left, as ordered, to retrieve his bag.

Winters now ordered the assault on the second gun. Leaving three men on the first 105, Winters led five others in a charge on the gun. With only one casualty the gun was taken (Ambrose 100). It was at the second 105 position that Winters discovered the radio and map room. This was an important find, as the maps contains locations of every German battery on the Contentin Peninsula. Winters ordered the radios and remaining materials destroyed.


With two guns under their control, Winters ordered the four machine gunners forward to suppress the MG42 fire from across the field. The team was joined by Pvt. John D. Hall of A Company. Hall led the charge on the third gun but was killed. However, the gun was taken (Ambrose, pg. 100). Captain Hester, S3, then joined the team, bringing with him incendiary grenades. Winters ordered all the captured guns destroyed.

Five more men, led by Lt. Ronald Spiers of D Company, arrived to reinforce the effort. Speirs led the assault on the fourth and final gun. The gun was taken but not without the loss of one man, Julius "Rusty" Houck of F Company (Ambrose 101). All guns were now capture and effectively put out of operating order.

With all guns captured and destroyed, Winters ordered a fallback to the original starting point and subsequet retreat to Le Grand Chemin.


Conclusion

"Winters' casualties were four dead, two wounded. He and his men had killed 15 Germans, wounded many more and taken twelve prisoners; in short, they wiped out the 50 man platoon of elite German paratroops defending the guns, and scattered the gun crews" (Ambrose, pg. 102)

For their actions, Lt Richard Winters received the Distinguished Service Cross, while Compton, Guarnere, Lorraine and Toye received the Silver Star; Lipton, Malarkey, Ranney, Liebgott, Hendrix, Plesha, Petty and Wynn recieved the Bronze Star (Ambrose, pg. 104).


Major Richard D. Winters, Easy Company

SOURCES:
  • Old www.brecourtassault.com website (now closed).
  • Ambrose, Stephen. Band of Brothers. New York; Simon and Schuster, 1992
  • Guarnere, Bill. Chat Session on Wildbillguarnere.com; April 6th, 2003
  • Hogg, Ian V. German Artillery of World War 2. London: Greenhill Books, 2002
  • Koskimaki, George. D-Day with the Screaming Eagles. Havertown: Casemate, 1970
  • Warren, John C. USAF Historical Studies : No . 97, Airborne Operations In World War II, European Theater . Maxwell AFB: USAF Historical Division, Research Studies Institute, Air University, U.S. Air Force, 1956.

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Last edited by zeroy; 03-09-2009 at 10:53 AM..
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Old 03-09-2009, 08:33 AM
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Very comprehensive description of the battle. Well done.
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Old 03-09-2009, 07:18 PM
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Hey Z,

Thanks for finding and presenting this information. I have always wondered if there was info for this particular mission. I'm a big fan of the Band of Brothers HBO special where they show this mission. I've always wanted to know more about it.

thanks.
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Last edited by richman; 03-09-2009 at 07:19 PM..
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Old 03-10-2009, 06:00 AM
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Nice post, Z.

Was a really good read, thanks for the info!
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Old 03-10-2009, 06:31 AM
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From a historian's viewpoint;


"I went to Brecourt Manor, where Winters took a squad and knocked out the 105mm battery, a la Band of Brothers. The guns were not placed in prepared trenches, with reinforced sides, but were instead set up along one 200 meter long hedgerow, and settled into a drainage ditch.

The lack of prepared defensive positions meant that the position was invisible from the air, and intelligence was not aware of the battery before D-Day. Striking to me was that the assault reportedly took 2 hours...just to move down one hedgerow 200 meters long, albeit under MG fire from the next hedgerow, 150-200 meters to the rear.

This revelation, while actually seeing the size of the ground fought over, again has me thinking a lot about the speed of actual WW2 combat, and the pace at which tactics typically played out.

Remember, this action is still studied at West Point as an excellent example of fire and maneuver. Nobody ever told me that this action took 2 hours (they apparently sent back for more ammunition at least once during the engagement), and again has me wondering how well war gamers understand tactics as actually practiced.

At the very least, the Band of Brothers episode is very deceiving."


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Battle at Brecourt



On 6 June, 1944, D-Day, Easy 506th fought one of its most important battles. In a field between le Grand Chemin and the Brecourt Manor house, was a manmade ditch lined with trees. Spaced at intervals along that ditch, were three German artillery pieces, sited on the shoreline of Utah Beach near Exit two, over five miles distant. Another gun was set off to the west a short distance left of the far end of the treeline shown in this photo, and was facing west (opposite direction of the beach).

The photo above was taken in June 2000, looking up the treeline (west of the treeline), facing somewhat to the north. The buildings of le Grand Chemin cannot be seen from this vantage point, although I surmise that most of the fighting took place on this side of the treeline. The big German guns were facing out the opposite side of the treeline, toward the coast.

Easy began its attack from the distance, knocking out the first two guns then working south, toward the spot where this photo was made. The enemy artillery crews were protected by a platoon of German infantry, who had set up several MG42 positions.

Fighting was close and furious, and proved to be an instructive baptism of fire for the members of Easy Co. who took part. Lt Sparky Speirs arrived with some of his Dog Company men after the first three guns were taken, and charged the fourth, killing the crew singlehandedly.

About a dozen soldiers were decorated for this crucial action, which no doubt saved many American lives among the seaborne forces landing at Exit #2. Lt R.D. Winters received the Distinguished Service Cross, and Pfc Loraine was among the soldiers who received the Silver Star. Loraine's Citation appears below.

The wording of the citation may be misleading, as the beach was over five miles distant, not at "close range". This made direct observation by the enemy gunners impossible. The guns were sited on the shoreline, depending on radio communications from observers closer to the Channel for adjustments. Also bear in mind that the enemy battery probably consisted of 105's rather than 88mm artillery.

(Above photo courtesy F. Raine Remsberg, Band of Brothers tour, 2000.)

Citation for Silver Star for Private First Class Gerald J.Loraine
Service Company, 506th P.I.R.

(Photo courtesy of Mrs Martha Loraine)
Private First Class Gerald J. Loraine 39104951, Parachute Infantry, United States Army, for gallantry in action. On 6 June, 1944, at le Grand Chemin, France, an enemy battery of four 88mm guns, protected by machine-guns, was firing at short range on the beach, greatly impeding the landing of Allied troops. Private Loraine's battalion attacked the battery position, but was stopped by direct fire. Private Loraine, with a small group of soldiers made an assault directly into the battery positions. Without regard for his personal safety, Private Loraine attacked the enemy with hand grenades and sub machinegun fire. Several times he picked up grenades which had been thrown by the enemy and threw them back into the positions. Private Loraine led his small group in the assault on successive positions until the guns were destroyed and silenced. His outstanding bravery in this action enabled his battalion to advance and gain its objective. His conduct was in accordance with the highest standards of military service. Entered military service from California.-General Orders #9, 23 June, 1944.
Note: Gerald Loraine received a second Silver Star Medal for actions in Holland and in postwar years, he claimed to be the first member of the 101st Airborne to win that medal twice - He apparently was the first to accomplish that, and Fred Bahlau was a close second.

Brecourt Manor


The photo above was taken by the webmaster in June of 2000, and shows the front entrance to Brecourt Manor. A young French boy named Michel DeValavielle, was shot by American paratroopers in the archway in a case of mistaken identity on D-Day. Michel was evacuated by boat to England for medical attention, survived, and later became the mayor of St Marie du Mont.

Another note from the webmaster-on my last 2 visits to this area (1999 and 2000), I was disappointed to see on the ground between the south end of the treeline and the entrance to Brecourt Manor, a huge pile of that blight of modern civilization: discarded tires! Somehow it seems an out-of-place desecration to this hallowed ground. But life goes on for farmers in France.

For fifty years after D-Day, no erection of new buildings was allowed in the Cotentin, behind Utah Beach. I can attest that in 1989, on my first visit, things were still pretty primitive. But in just 12 years since that time, many new houses and business places have sprung-up in the area between the north edge of Carentan, and the village of Ravenoville. It is a shame, but for example, 'Gillis' Corner' at the edge of DZ 'D' at la Haute Addeville now has two new houses built there, and someday will just be the corner of some residential street.

Will future French residents ever realize the American blood that was shed on their block for the liberation of their country? In 2000, I told the residents of the house at Gillis' Corner that Pfc James J. Luce of F/501 was fatally wounded about 50 feet from their front door.

Above photos courtesy F. Raine Remsberg, Band of Brothers tour, 2000.

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Old 03-10-2009, 12:28 PM
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Thanks for the post guys, really an amazing engagement when you think about it. Winters did a incredible job developing his assault and everyone of his "Screaming Eagles" showed great bravery in this battle. What is ironic was the trenches constructed by the Germans that ultimately proved to be their achilles heel. This excerpt from the history of the battle: "While the trench network linking all the guns was sound military practice by the Germans, providing them with an easy way to resupply and reinforce the guns, it also proved to be their biggest weakness; after taking out the first gun position, Winters' team attacked the remaining guns by using the trenches for cover and approach routes. The biggest danger of the trenches to Winters' team were that they were extremely vulnerable to grenades."

Also, as accurately depicted in the HBO series, Warrant Officer Andrew Hill was killed coming to the battle looking for the Regimental Headquarters. Not depicted in the series was as well a young boy was severely wounded accidentally by a 101st Trooper as he stood in an upper door arch at Brecourt Manor that morning. Incredible to think this could even occur, but the "fog of war" has never been so sadly demonstrated as in these instances.
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Old 03-10-2009, 01:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OneShot View Post
Thanks for the post guys, really an amazing engagement when you think about it. Winters did a incredible job developing his assault and everyone of his "Screaming Eagles" showed great bravery in this battle. What is ironic was the trenches constructed by the Germans that ultimately proved to be their achilles heel. This excerpt from the history of the battle: "While the trench network linking all the guns was sound military practice by the Germans, providing them with an easy way to resupply and reinforce the guns, it also proved to be their biggest weakness; after taking out the first gun position, Winters' team attacked the remaining guns by using the trenches for cover and approach routes. The biggest danger of the trenches to Winters' team were that they were extremely vulnerable to grenades."
I trust you understand that the "trenches" were merely troughs fortified with logs and sand bags and that the guns themselves were in shallow emplacements in dirt. Fortified also with sandbags and logs. In essence, there were no traditional trenches as we know and recognize. Only roughly fortified troughs.

Quote:
Also, as accurately depicted in the HBO series, Warrant Officer Andrew Hill was killed coming to the battle looking for the Regimental Headquarters. Not depicted in the series was as well a young boy was severely wounded accidentally by a 101st Trooper as he stood in an upper door arch at Brecourt Manor that morning. Incredible to think this could even occur, but the "fog of war" has never been so sadly demonstrated as in these instances.
The HBO mini series of Band of Brothers, was far from accurate. Creative liberties were taken by Hollywood left and right. While the series was a great tribute to the 101st Airborne, it was far from accurate. Each episode had it's share of "embellishments of creativity."
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