Author Topic: Graignes - Battle #5 F|H Campaign  (Read 1325 times)

Offline Maddog95

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Graignes - Battle #5 F|H Campaign
« on: 03-05-2012, 10:05:14 »
Graignes


Shortly after 0200 hours on D-Day, twelve planeloads of paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion 507th PIR were scattered throughout the marshes south of Carentan. They were supposed to have been dropped eighteen miles to the northwest at drop zone “T” near Amfreville, but instead ended-up in the vicinity of the French village of Graignes. Theirs was the worst misdrop of any airborne unit on 6 June 1944.

After sunrise, several small groups of these men slogged their way out of the marsh, gravitating toward the small agrarian community whose 12th century Roman Catholic church was silhouetted against the rising sun. Because the troopers were deep behind enemy lines and far from their drop zone, the decision was made to remain where they had landed and defend Graignes. The episode that would unfold in this obscure little village over the course of the next five days stands as one of the most dramatic and tragic of the entire Normandy campaign.

By 1000 hours, twenty-five paratroopers under the command of 507th Captain Leroy D. Brummitt had gathered in the village. Considering what they had been through, the small group of troopers was surprisingly well armed. In addition to their personal weapons, the men had five M1919A4 .30-cal. machine guns and two 81 mm mortars. As a precaution, Capt. Brummitt put out perimeter security to serve as an early warning in the event that the enemy approached the village. Two hours later, more 3rd Battalion/507th men arrived led by Major Charles D. Johnston. After discussing the situation with Capt. Brummitt, Maj. Johnston took control of the 507th men assembled in the village. He felt that, moving the force toward the American airborne units fighting to the north was an impractical idea because the 82nd and 101st Division drop zones were just too far away. He therefore decided that the best course of action would be to keep the force in Graignes. Captain Brummitt disagreed and argued that the force should attempt to reach the regiment’s objective area to the north. Major Johnston felt that the troopers should stay put and organize a defensive perimeter and await a link-up with ground forces coming across the landing beaches. As the ranking officer present, Johnston’s decision was final: Graignes would be defended.



In the afternoon on Saturday, 10 June, a mechanized patrol approached a defensive position that was manned by some of 1st Lt. Murn’s B Company/501st men. They let the patrol get close, then opened fire killing four of the enemy. That night, outposts reported hearing a great deal of activity in the same vicinity and contact was made with the Germans several times. In one of those firefights, the paratroopers ambushed a convoy, killing one enemy soldier. When the troopers searched the dead German’s pockets, they discovered some documents that revealed him to be assigned to a reconnaissance battalion of an armored division – an ominous sign of what the Americans were up against. Knowing that such a German force was out there in the hedgerows to the west of Graignes sent a wave of nervousness through the Americans. As a consequence, that night was spent on a full alert with officers conducting almost constant inspections of the perimeter. Prior to that night, the paratroopers at Graignes had been confident that American units to the north would get through to them before the enemy could launch any kind of serious attack against their perimeter. However, the crescendo of enemy activity around the village throughout the 8th, 9th and 10th seemed to indicate that they could not expect relief to get there in time. To the American paratroopers and the French civilians in Graignes, it appeared that the moment of truth was drawing near.

There was no sign of the enemy and all was quiet that morning, the first Sunday since the invasion began. That being the case, Maj. Johnston gave permission for some of the men to attend Mass. They arrived just as the parish priest, Father Albert Leblastier, began the liturgy right on time at 1000 hours. At about the same time, Capt. Brummitt heard firing south of the village, rushed to the scene and quickly determined that a large German force was approaching Graignes from that direction. He reinforced the southern flank and prepared to receive the weight of a direct attack. He would not have to wait long.

Meanwhile back in the church, the firing rudely interrupted Father Leblastier, who was ten minutes into Mass. At first he continued, but then half way through the service, a woman burst into the church yelling, “The Germans are coming! Save yourselves!" A German patrol had indeed managed to penetrate to within two hundred meters of the church, causing a panic among the assembled parishioners and American paratroopers. Marthe remembered that, “Everybody started to run away but they started shooting, so we had to stay inside the church.” During the gun battle, all of the villagers assembled for Mass had to huddle inside the nave of the church just to stay out of the way of the flying bullets.


The assault, which lasted only ten minutes, had been an uncoordinated, piecemeal effort during which the paratroopers inflicted heavy casualties on the attacking force. All of the work that the paratroopers put into preparing fields of fire to cover avenues of approach had paid off, and the Germans had sustained staggering casualties. From the belfry of the church, trucks could be seen picking up dead German soldiers. As soon as the fight was over, Maj. Johnston ordered all available personnel to man the defensive line around the village. He correctly recognized that the morning attack had only been a probing action and that another assault would soon follow.

At about 1400 hours, the Germans commenced a punishing mortar bombardment of Graignes. This preparatory fire was swiftly followed by a second infantry assault against the flanks of the defensive line around the village. This time the attackers moved so swiftly that the perimeter was almost breached at one point. However, Capt. Brummitt quickly shifted forces to meet the threat, and the line held. Once again, the paratroopers’ supporting fires were decisive in holding off defeat as mortar fire inflicted heavy losses and scores of enemy infantry were caught in the crossfire of the multiple machine guns defending the village center. During this second attack though, the paratroopers and the citizens of Graignes began to suffer their first casualties. The church sanctuary was then transformed into an aid station as the wounded were rushed there to receive medical attention from Capt. Sophian. Father Leblastier and Father Louis Lebarbanchon, a Franciscan priest temporarily assigned to Graignes, provided comfort to the wounded as well as several villagers. Alongside the two priests, the rectory’s two housekeepers, eighty-year-old Eugenie DuJardin and Madeleine Pezeril, also did what they could for the wounded.


An uneasy quiet fell over Graignes following the second attack. During this lull, Maj. Johnston pulled his outposts back to the defensive line in the village and assessed his situation. He found that, after the morning’s two major assaults, ammunition was beginning to run low. The remaining small arms ammunition and mortar rounds were then redistributed among the defenders to provide each position with an even supply. Then, an unnerving sound was heard rising from the maze of hedgerows surrounding Graignes. What was clearly the sound of heavy vehicular movement announced that the Germans were bringing in reinforcements. Since the observed evidence indicated that Graignes was about to be the target of a major attack, Maj. Johnston sent all of the civilians away. After almost nine hours of confinement in the church during the day’s fighting, sisters Marthe and Odette Rigault were both “ready to leave.” Marthe remembered that, “At 7 o’clock (PM) Major Johnston told us that we should go home because they did not have enough ammunition for the night and the night was coming.” According to Odette, “He told us that we had to try to get out if we could.” Marthe and Odette then slipped out of the village and returned safely to Le Port St. Pierre.




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Offline RAnDOOm

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Offline RAnDOOm

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Re: Graignes - Battle #5 F|H Campaign
« Reply #2 on: 04-05-2012, 14:05:21 »
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