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Battle of Carentan (map overlay)


Between 8. and 15. June 1944 the 101. Airborne Division fought the Battle of Carentan against troops of the 6. Fallschirmregiment (Parachute Regiment) and the 17. SS-Panzergrenadierdivision. Carentan was one of the key positions to take Cherbourg and the peninsula Cotentin.



Prelude

After the invasion began Allied units tried to take the bigger cities in the back country to secure the beachheads. The 101st., commanded by Col. Sink, was ordered to attack the German occupied Carentan. The Germans could had attacked the Allied and split the V. and VII. Corps.





The Battle

The new orders were received when the 101st fought at St. Come-du-Mont. The 3rd Battalion took Drouries pretty fast and moved on southwards. It reached the street to Carentan in the late morning. In the assumption the Germans withdrew the 3rd Bat. moved on to take bridges and streets to the city. But suddenly the Germans started a counter-attack. Without any comms to the artillery the 3rd Bat. withdrew. The counter-attack was stopped, but the Germans held a little hill covering the street to the west.

In the afternoon Col. Sink ordered the 401st gliderinfantry to involve the fights. But just as they moved forward, the Germans withdrew to the railroad embarkment and the street. A patrol reported the village free of Germans.

In the afternoon the 101st controlled a defense bow at the southern flank of the VII. Corps. The right flank of the 101st was controlled by the 502nd infantry regiment from Chef-du-Pont to Houesville, supported at the lock and the harbour bridges by the 327th glider regiment on the left flank . The center was controlled by the 506th on both sides of the causeway to Carentan.

The plan was to attack Carentan from the southwest. Therefore the right wing had to cross the causeway, move around the city and take Hill 30, a little hill right in the escape way of the Germans.

Pinned down, Col. Cole's paratroopers flattened into the marshy swamp for cover. After unceasing enemy fire prevented any move for more than an hour. Col. Cole weighed two plans -- a withdrawal or a bayonet attack.

He ordered: "Strip for bayonet attack. Let's get out of this **** swamp!" Word was whispered from man to man in the marshy bed -- "The Old Man wants it done with steel." There, on the last approach to Carentan occurred the first bayonet attack of World War II.

With bull-like charges through the soggy marsh, paratroopers rushed forward to close with the German defenders.

Picking up a fallen man's rifle and bayonet, Col. Cole led the battalion over the bullet-swept ground. Locked in hand-to-hand fighting, the paratroopers forced back the Germans, subdued the last defenders.

For his heroic action, Col. Cole won the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously awarded. He was killed the second day of the Holland invasion.