The Battle For Saint-Sauveur-Le-Vicomte

Taken from "Then & Now" Magazine

By June 9, 1944, three days after its assault on the Normandy coast, the US VII Corps of Major General Lawton J. Collins had consolidated all its units the 82nd and 101st Air borne Divisions which had dropped on D-day and the formations which had landed at Utah Beach into a single continuous front.
Also by that date, Major General Matthew B. Ridgway's 82nd Airborne Division had finally secured its two bridgeheads across the Merderet river west of Ste Mere Eglise, one at Chef du Pont and one at La Fière, the latter after a sharp, bloody battle.
These crossings were now to become the springboard for the major corps effort to cut westwards across the Cotentin peninsula and isolate the German forces holding out further north in defence of Cherbourg.
The mission was given to the 90th Infantry Division of Brigadier General Jay W. MacKelvie, which had begun landing on Utah
Beach on D-day. The initial divisional objective was the line of the Douve river between Terre de Beauval and St Sauveur le Vicomte, some 10 miles away to the west.
Passing through the 82nd Airborne bridgehead, the division was to attack with two regiments, the 357th and 359th Infantry (the third regiment was detached to the 4th Division).
The 90th Division jumped off early in the morning of June 10, but the attack went badly from the start. On the right, the 357th Infantry scarcely advanced beyond the perimeter of the La Fière bridgehead, recoiling under its first experience with heavy enemy fire.
On the left, the 358th Infantry advanced a few hundred yards from the Chef du Pont bridgehead, but then halted before meeting serious opposition because the regimental commander, Colonel James V. Thompson, felt that his position was insecure as the Germans still held out in a château to the rear of his position.
On June 11, both regiments continued the attack, but progress was again disappointingly slow, and nightfall found them still short of the objective.
The 357th was now near Les Landes and the 358th had encircled but not captured Pont l'Abbé. Next day, June 12, the 359th Infantry, released from attachment to the 4th Division, was inserted between the two regiments, but despite this reinforcement, the 90th Division's movement remained as sticky as before.
By June 13, it had struggled to its initial objectives roughly on a line from Gourbesville to Pont l'Abbé, the latter town being captured by the 358th Infantry after aerial bombing and artillery concentration had levelled it.
The poor performance of the 90th Division in its first four days in action caused it to be heavily criticised by higher commanders.
They admitted that in the hedgerow country, where each field constituted a separate battlefield and unit control was at times impossible, the normal difficulties of any division green to combat were greatly intensified, but the general feeling was that there was a lack of aggressiveness in the 90th Division.
On the 12th, General Collins called Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley, commander of the US First Army, and told him the division was inadequately trained and lacked leadership. In Collins' opinion, it was not the fault of MacKelvie (who had only assumed command in January 1944), but of the division's former commander, Major General Henry Terrell. Bradley soon agreed that the 90th was 'one of the worst-trained outfits to arrive in the ETO'. On June 13, MacKelvie was relieved (without prejudice) and replaced by Major General Eugene M. Landrum. Two regimental commanders, Colonel Philip H. Ginder of the 357th and Thompson of the 358th, were relieved as well.
The 90th Division was left in the line, but General Collins decided to completely reorganise his corps attack plan. The main attack west was to be taken over by the veteran 82nd Airborne and 9th Infantry Divisions. Ridgway's 82nd was assigned the southern half of the 90th Division's zone and ordered to advance south-westward along the road from Pont l'Abbé to St Sauveur le Vicomte; Major General Manton S. Eddy's 9th Division, which had begun to debark on Utah Beach on June 10, was to take over the northern half and attack toward Ste Colombe, three miles upstream from St Sauveur.
After that, the 9th was to cross the Douve and cut the peninsula. Landrum's 90th Division, when passed through by the 82nd and 9th, would wheel north and advance towards Le Ham and Terre de Beauval, thus covering the northern flank of the westward drive.
The new offensive jumped off on the morning of June 14. In the 82nd Airborne sector, the initial attack was led by the 90th Division's 358th Infantry. It had been agreed that this regiment should seize the road junction 1,000 yards to the west and that the 82nd was to carry the attack from there.
Despite close range mortar fire and 88 mm fire from across the Douve river, the 358th gained the objective and, at noon, the 82nd's 507th Parachute Infantry (temporarily commanded by the regimental executive, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Maloney) and the 325th Glider Infantry (also under temporary command of its executive, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert G. Sitler) began passing through, moving abreast in columns of battalions, left and right of the highway respectively.
They had plenty of artillery support, the 82nd's three own artillery battalions having been reinforced by the 188th Field Artillery Battalion on June 13. However, the artillery had difficulty keeping up with the 507th's advance, and mishap occurred when a heavy barrage of friendly fire fell on its leading 2nd Battalion. An evening counter attack forced back the 507th's right a few hundred yards, but at the end of the day the two regiments had pushed forward about a mile and had reached the road running south from Bonneville. Meanwhile, on the right, the 9th Division s 60th Infantry was committed in the gap opened by the 90th Division pivoting to the and right of the highway respectively. Advancing slowly under enemy mortar and artillery fire, by dark the regiment had reached the Valognes Pont l'Abbé highway. However, further north, the virtual paralysis of the 90th Division continued. Two full days of fighting were required for the 357th to take Gourbesville, while the 359th inched forward towards Orglandes and the 358th, committed on the 15th on the division right flank, achieved little gains.
Whatever else may explain the 90th Division's continued poor performance, there is no doubt that German opposition on the north and north-west was substantially stronger than on the west. While Landrum faced elements of Generalleutnant Rudolf Stegmann's 77. Infanterie Division, recently arrived from Brittany, opposition to the drive west was still only coming from the 91. Luftlande Division, commanded by Oberst Eugen Koenig (Generalmajor Wilhelm Fal]ey had been killed by US paratroops on D-day) and by now beaten down to a battle weary Kampfgruppe. A Kampfgruppe of the 265. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant Walther Duvert) was being brought up from Brittany, but the bulk of this new unit was
committed in the Pretot area on the other side of the Douve further south.
General der Artillerie Wilhelm Fahrmbacher, who replaced General der Artillerie Erich Marcks as commander of the LXXXIV. Armeekorps after the latter's death in an air attack on June 12, reported to 7. Armee on the 14th that a large-scale American attack westward could not be held because of the fragmentation and mixing of units, the fatigue of the troops and the lack of sufficient ammunition. His estimation was correct.
On June 15, the 82nd Airborne accelerated its advance. Attacking astride the highway to St Sauveur, Ridgway's division encountered only moderate resistance throughout the day, even with the enemy using some tanks to oppose the advance. The 325th Glider Infantry made the largest gains and reached Rauville, only 1,000 yards from St Sauveur. The 507th again suffered from an unfortunate barrage of friendly fire. In mid afternoon, the regiment was relieved by the 505th Parachute Infantry (Colonel William E. Ekman), the change slowing the advance on the right. Never the less, the 505th, attacking though the 507th with two battalions astride the road, made up for much of the time lost. The 2nd Battalion, led by Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort (who had broken an ankle in the D-day jump but had continued to lead his battalion on crutches) hit an enemy strong point near the hamlet of La Rosiers, but overcame this with the help of two Sherman tanks of Company A of the 746th Tank Battalion. By nightfall, the 505th had advanced three miles and reached a line south of Reigneville, two miles from St Sauveur. That day, the 82nd identified elements of two regiments of the 265. Division, Infanterie Regiment 894 and Infanterie Regiment 895, among the units opposing it.
In the 9th Division sector, the increasing gap with the 90th Division permitted General Eddy to commit a second regiment, the 47th Infantry, on his right wing. Advancing rapidly, by dark the 47th had reached its objective, the high ground west of Orglandes.

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