US Airborne sector
Sainte Mere Eglise
Situated on the main road between Paris and Cherbourg and only 7 miles from Utah Beach, Sainte Mere Eglise was one of the most important strategic points that had to be captured by the American Airborne troops prior to the Naval landings on June 6th, 1944. Due to bad weather conditions many paratroopers were misdropped that night and those that landed in the town centre had more to contend with. A house in the village had caught fire and the local German garrison had been turned out to watch over the French inhabitants who were putting it out. Landing in the middle of this chaos led to heavy fighting which continued until the early morning when the Germans retreated from the village. Despite repeated counter-attacks up to June 9th to try to recapture the village by the German forces they were unsuccessful and the town remained in American hands.
Today you can still see the XII century church, now a familiar symbol of D-Day as the place where one man, John Steele, was to become one of the best known figures of the invasion after he was unlucky enough to get caught with his parachute stuck over the church bell tower. You can also still see some of the bullet holes left in the local houses after the fighting and will be able to visit the Airborne Museum there, one of the best D-Day museums in Normandy.
Sainte Marie du Mont
This small town behind Utah Beach was an important strategic point for the 101st Airborne to capture. The Germans occupying the town had a perfect view from the church steeple of the troops landing on Utah Beach. But, confronted with widely scattered landing of the Paratroopers in the hours preceding dawn, the Americans only succeeded in capturing the town during the afternoon of June 6th.
Today you can see:
– The French WWI monument in the village depicted in a famous photo of some of the members of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, made famous in the HBO series ‘Band of Brothers’
– The water pump behind which a paratrooper took up position to defend against the Germans forces coming to reinforce the village.
– The village square around the church which remains almost unchanged since 1944.
Made famous by the HBO mini-series ‘Band of Brothers’, the farm (or predominantly the field next to it) have become increasingly popular popular with WWII history buffs. In this ordinary looking field where cows graze today the German defenders had positioned four 105 mm German guns aimed at what was to become Utah beach. This battery had remained unnoticed by Allied Intelligence. At dawn on D-Day, the men from Easy company were sent to knock out these guns.
Today you can see
– Brecourt Manor and the farmhouse
– The Memorial to Easy company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division overlooking the field where the guns were located
Angoville au Plain
Situated close to Drop Zone D where the 501st and 506th Infantry Regiments were to land, Angoville au Plain was in the hands of a German Paratrooper Regiment as the Americans landed. These German forces, being out on a night exercise, heavily attacked the US Forces as they were coming in. Heavy fighting followed but here history shows that humans, despite war, stay human. There were a little more than a hundred Americans fighting a German regiment with civilians mixed in and around the two opposing sides. Two medics of the 501st, Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore, set up their local aid station in the small church in the village and looked after 80 wounded German and American soldiers, with wounded French civilians, too. With the battle going on all around them, they stayed in place looking after those that needed them. The village changed hands several times during the two days following the landings but the medics never abandoned their position.
Today you can see the church with its memorial dedicated to the two medics, where a mortar impacted inside the church as well as some traces from the temporary aid station that was once situated there.
There was only one road that could be used to get vehicles from Utah to Omaha and this road ran through the town of Carentan. With the fields surrounding the town and as far north as the beaches themselves flooded, the capture of this town was crucial to the development of the American First Army Bridgehead. In the invasion planning it was listed to be secured on June 7th but the German Paratroopers defending the town had other ideas. The 502nd Parachute Regiment was the US unit that had the job of securing the roadway into the town. Advancing past the aptly named Dead Man’s Corner and down Purple Heart Lane, the Paratroopers secured the road by June the 11th. But exhausted by the fighting of the previous two days the 502nd Regiment took up blocking positions and passed the attack over to the 506th Regiment. This was the unit that finally secured the village on June 12th 1944, an attack illustrated in the HBO Series ‘Band of Brothers’.