The amphibious landings on the Cotentin Peninsula on 6th June 1944 at 7. Armee K.V.A.“J1” (Küsten Verteidigung Abschnitt – Divisional Costal Defensive Section), known by the code-name “Utah”, were part of the ‘Second Front’ promised by the Western Allies. The Peninsula was defended by three under-strength Heer Divisions and an attachment of various Luftwaffe, Artillery, Pioneer and Panzer training units – most with no combat experience. OKW planned the defences on the peninsula following an assessment that the main Allied effort would be against the Pas de Calais. As a result OKW deployed second-line units behind what were considered less vulnerable beaches as an economy-of- force measure.
Allied strategy, on the other hand, planned for the early seizure of a sizable French port to aid resupply of the invasion forces and the facilities at Port of Cherbourg combined with the intelligence assessment of ‘light’ Wehrmacht defences met that requirement.
This meant that the Wehrmacht on the Cotentin Peninsula were to face four of the US Army’s best and most experienced infantry divisions – 82nd and 101st Parachute Infantry, 4th and 9th Infantry Divisions supported by 79th and 90th infantry, an armoured regiment, constant air combat support and resupply by both land and air, all preceded by an intense air and naval bombardment. The Peninsula was isolated by US forces on 18th June, splitting 7.Armee and in spite of fierce resistance, fighting ended on the 29th June when Fortress-Cherbourg surrendered.
This article will look at the responses of the forces under command of General der Artillerie Erich Marcks’s LXXXIV A.K. during the first three days of the Allied landing on “Utah Beach”.
GeneralOberst Dollman, 7. Armee 7.AOK Tactical Symbol General der Artillerie Erich Marcks, LXXXIV A.K
On 6th June 1944 German ground forces in the Normandy region were under command of Colonel General Friedrich Dollman’s 7. Armee. The OKW map shows 7. Armee responsible for KVA’s (Küsten Verteidigung Abschnitt – Divisional Costal Defensive Section) for Normandy and the Cotentin Peninsula. On paper the Wehrmacht fielded a large number of divisions to guard the coast of France, but the combination of the lack of mobility and combat training of certain units the actual strength lower than appeared. In 1944, 2,000 km of the Atlantic Coast line was covered by 23 Bodenständige-Division), these Divisions were not trained in mobile warfare and as such possessed very limited transport, any transport assigned to the division were usually horse drawn and they generally occupied a rigid defence position usually on a broad front.. They did have a higher than normal number of artillery pieces as suited to their role but many of the officers, NCO’s and men in these Divisions were either previously wounded, older men lacking combat experience, with ailments or ‘Ost-truppen’.
Infantry Divisions of LXXXIV A.K located on the Cotentin Peninsula on 6th June 1944
Defence of the Cotentin Peninsula was the responsibility of General der Artillerie Erich Marcks’s LXXXIV A.K. (84th Army Corps). Of the three infantry divisions deployed by the AK, in defensive positions on the Peninsula, directly in the path of the US invasion force from ‘Utah Beach’, two were Bodenständige-Division (Fortress or Static Divisions).
The Peninsula, designated as K.V.A “J1” on the Lage 7. Armee map bore the brunt of the Allied amphibious landings on “Utah Beach” on 6th June 1944. The Allied landed on General der Artillerie Marcks’s 53rd birthday, he was killed six days later on June 12 by an Allied fighter-bomber attack near Hébécrevon, northwest of Saint-Lô while on his daily round of troop unit inspections . He was posthumously awarded the oak leaves to the Knight’s cross on June 24.
709. Infanterie-Division formed on 2nd May 1941 as a Bodenständige-Division.
(Strength on 1st May 1944, 12,320 + 333 HiWis)
Commanded by Generalleutnant Karl Wilhelm von Schlieben this Division’s sector was considered to be over a 250 km wide front and ran in a line from the North East of Carentan, via Barfleur-Cherbourg-cap de la Hague to a point west of Barneville. This included the 65 km land front of Cherbourg. Much like the other static divisions, 709 was intended to do little more than defend the coast and was composed of men whose average age was in the mid-thirties. In addition up 27% of the Division’s infantry strength comprised a number of “Ostlegionen” units of various nationalities, two battalions of the 739th Grenadier Regiment, for example, were Georgian battalions and two others were also designated as “Ost” units in the Divisional Order of Battle. These battalions were led by German officers and NCOs. In general, although with some notable exceptions, they were regarded as unreliable, von Schlieben remarked, “We are asking rather a lot if we expect Russians to fight in France for Germany against Americans.” The Division had no combat experience before D-Day and because of this, on 16 June reported they had suffered about 4,000 casualties, probably including subordinated units.
243. Infanterie-Division formed as a Bodenständige-Division in 1941. (Strength on 1st May 1944 11,529 + at least 442 HiWis)
Commanded by Generalleutnant Heinz Hellmich, on 1st May 1944 the Division’s strength was listed as 11,529 + at least 442 HiWis. Their heavy equipment, such as artillery pieces and anti-tank guns, tended to be obsolete models or captured Czech, French, and Russian weapons of varied effectiveness. Despite all the disadvantages listed, however, the Division had one thing on their side: many of the officers and non-commissioned officers were battle-hardened veterans from the Eastern Front, and their leadership would later prove worthy of the task set out before them. The division was formed in July 1943 in Döllersheim, Germany, and sent to Normandy in the autumn. Originally it was a static division, but it had been gradually upgrading its mobility and in May 1944 it had comparatively good mobility for a German infantry division in the west.
By 23 July however, the division had only four depleted infantry battalions, eight heavy AT guns, three StuG and nine artillery batteries left was rated to have “Kampfwert V” which was the lowest assignable. It was decided 10 August that the 243. Division should be rebuilt using the 182. Reserve Division, but this was never carried out and the division was disbanded 12 September.
Other major units attached to 243. Infanterie-Division:
Panzer Abteilung 206 established on 11 November 1943 and assigned to 7.AOK. On 5 June 1944 it had the following obsolete French equipment:
28x Pz-H38(f) a French Hotchkiss Char 1938-H
10x Pz-S35(f) a French Somua Char 1935-S
6x Pz-B2 Flamm(f) a French Char BI bis converted to a flame tank
2x Pz-R35 (f) a French Renault 35.
Deployed in the north of the Peninsula in the area of Cap de la Hague, the unit was destroyed by 26 June 1944 while fighting the Allied advance on Festung-Cherbourg.
91. Luftlande-Infanterie-Division formed in early 1944 – Strength in 1st May 1944 – 7,500 – number of HiWi unknown was commanded by Generalleutnant Wilhelm Falley.
The designation “Luftlande” equals “air portable”. 91. Luftlande-Division was a unit of the Heer, organized so as to be more easily transported by air, either in aircraft or gliders, to follow-up behind actual “airborne” assault by Fallschirmjäger. It was partly formed from Gebirgsjäger units, their equipment was designed to be lightweight and easily transportable. Major Freiherr von der Heydte, commander of Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 6 attached to 91.LL Division, remarked that the Division had “probably been designated for combined parachute and air landing operations–Operation Tanne (fir tree) or Operation Fichte (pine tree) planned for the beginning of March 1944–in conjunction with the 6th FJ Regiment in one of the northern countries, probably Finland…….the combat efficiency of this division was poor.” 91.LL Division was AK Reserve on 6th June.
The other major unit attached was:
Panzer Ersatz und Ausbildungs Abteilung 100, (PzAbt100), equipped with older German and captured French equipment and positioned in the area south of the Douve River. The only Panzer unit faced by the highly-trained troopers of the 82nd Airborne was this training and replacement unit equipped with obsolete French armour of the Hotchkiss and Renault marks, plus one Somua and a Panzer III (likely of Battle of France 1940 vintage). The use of the Panzer Ersatz und Ausbildungs Abteilung 100 in the front line actions following D-Day is indicative of the concentration of elite units around the Pas-du-Calais in June 1944. The Abteilung was formed in April 1941 as a training unit using captured French and ‘old’ German panzers, with the intention of training new recruits inside of tanks without tying down front line panzers. The Abteilung ‘tanks’ were picked off one by one by the 82nd anti-tank units on 6 June and during the days following.
Location Map for LXXXIV A.K. (84 Army Corps) Units on 6th June 1944
OKH Map showing General Situation – LXXXIV A.K. – 10th June 1944
OOB (Order Of Battle) of Wehrmacht Units of LXXXIV A.K. facing Allied forces on Cotentin Peninsula.
709. Infanterie Division
(709. Infanterie-Division aufgestellt am 2. Mai 1941 als bodenständige Division der 15. Welle aus den Ersatztruppen des Wehrkreises IX. Die Division wurde auf der Halbinsel Cotentin zerschlagen und ging am 30. Juni 1944 in Cherbourg verloren. Sie wurde am 26. Juli 1944 formell aufgelöst.)
Generalleutnant Karl Wilhelm von Schlieben, Commander, 709. Infanterie-Division
(Lieutenant General Karl Wilhelm von Schlieben, the Commander of the 709. Infanterie-Division at the time of the D-Day landings took command in December 1943 after two and a half years of continuous command of Eastern Front combat units including the 108th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, 4th Rifle Brigade, 208th Infantry Division and the 18th Panzer Division.)
OOB 6th June 1944:
709. Infanterie Division: Generalmajor Karl-Wilhelm von Schlieben (12 December 1943 – 23 June 1944)
Command HQ/Gefechtsstand : Château de Chiffrevast
Festung-Grenadier-Regiment 729 (attached: 649th Ost-Battalion with 46 MG + 11 mortars )
Command HQ/Gefechtsstand : Le Vicel
(Festung-Grenadier-Regiment 739 (attached: 561st with 58 MG, 9 mortars and 795th ‘Georgian’ Battalions each with 44 MG, 15 mortars)
Command HQ/Gefechtsstand : Querqueville
Command HQ/Gefechtsstand : Montebourg (Le Mont Lestre) (Each Battalion had 50 MG, 4 flamethrowers (bodenständig), 8 mortars (8,1 cm); 1. company bicycle mounted.)
(Each infantry regiment in the division had a company with six 7,5 cm Pak and three 5 cm Pak. These were all motor drawn. In addition to this, the 919. Regiment had a company with six Russian 7,62 cm infantry howitzers (not motorized) and an extra AT company with light static AT guns.)
Attached Infantry Units:
649th Ost Battalion, 795th Georgian Battalion,
Sturm Battalion AOK 7 (Kommandeur : Major Hugo Messerschmidt)
Command HQ/Gefechtsstand : Le Vicel
Artillerie-Regiment 1709 – Field artillery were a mixture of captured French, Russian and Czech pieces.
CommandHQ/Gefechtsstand : Equeurdreville
8x10cm leFH 14/19 (Czech) guns.Batteries at: Cap de la Hague (I), Ouzeville (II)
12×10,5cm K331 (French) guns. Batteries at: (III) Fort des Fourches, (IV) Ste-Croix, (V) Fermanville
12×15,5cm sHF414 (French) guns. Batteries at (VI) La Glacière, (VII) ?, (VIII) ?
12×7,62cm FK39 (Russian) guns. Batteries at (IX) Maurepas, (X) ?, (XI) Val-Bourgoin
Schweres Stellungswerferregiment 101: Major Rasner (Vasteville) The 101st Stellungswerfer Regiment was organized in the west in January 1944. It consisted of three mobile rocket launcher battalions armed either with 210-mm. rocket launchers or 280-mm./320-mm. launchers. (Major Rasner – CP: Vasteville)
I./101 (CP: Aumeville) – II./101 (CP: Quetteville) – III./101 (CP: Le Gardot)
Gefechtsstand : Le Catelet
As it was organized on 1 May, the Panzerjäger Abteilung had 9 7,5 cm Pak 40 AT guns on tracked chassis. No deliveries of Marders have been found in the documents covering the period from May 1943 until D-Day. Either the SP-AT guns were delivered before May 1943 or they are some kind of locally made conversion, possibly using captured French vehicles. They also had twelve 7,5 cm Pak 40 (mot Z) and nine 3,7 cm Flak guns (mot Z).8
Nachrichten-Abteilung 709 : Kdr : Major Hartmann
Grenadier-Regiment z.b.V. 752 : Kommandeur : Oberst Kessler
HQ/Gefechtsstand : Gavray
(Note: The zbV 752nd Infantry Regiment (`zbV’ translates roughly as “for special employment”) was a headquarters staff controlling a group of coastal defense units in France. By 6 June 1944 it controlled the 636th Ost and 797th Ost battalions, the 281st Ost and the 629th Ost battalions as well as several security units in the city of Granville and three battalions, Schn.Abt. 513, 517, 518, of the Schnelle Brigade 30 (Radfahr-Rgt.), a bicycle unit of 1,800 men. In effect, “zbV 752 Regiment” covered a distance of over eighty kilometers of coastline along the Cotentin Peninsula in France from April through June 1944 between the German 243rd Infantry Division on the Cotentin Peninsula and the German 77th Infantry Division on the Brittany Peninsula.)
The combat effectiveness of the troops in the 709th had been reduced as personnel were constantly transferred to the Eastern front including entire Divisional combat units such as the 1st Battalion of its 739th Grenadier Regiment. A high percentage of the Division had no combat experience and while the 709th was well acquainted with its sector and while trained for defence, many months working on coastal defences the combat readiness of these troops was significantly reduced.
The manpower problems were compounded by the poor quality of defensive fortifications in the Divisions region were either second rate or unfinished, in some cases with only a few machine-gun nests to cover miles of coastline.
243. Infanterie Division
Generalleutnant Heinz Hellmich took part in the French campaign, invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa and in the bloody battles for Bialystok-Minsk, Brest, Smolensk, Vyazma and finally in the Battle of Moscow. After several months, on 01-04-1942, he became a commander of 141st Reserve Division. On 10-01-1944, he was transferred to France and put in a command of 243rd Infantry Division. Generalleutnant Hellmich was killed while defending Cherbourg during the Allied invasion of Normandy on 17th June 1944, age 54. He tried to escape through the American lines but was attacked by an Allied air fighter and killed. Generalleutnant Hellmich is buried on the large war cemetery of Orglandes in France.
243. Infanterie Division
OOB 06 June 1944
Grenadier-Regiment 920 : Kommandeur : Oberst Bernhard Klosterkemper
HQ/Gefechtsstand : Etoupeville Stab – Etoupville (1 kilometer west of Virandeville) (13 May)
Grenadier-Regiment 921 : Kommandeur : Oberstleutnant Jacob Simon
HQ/Gefechtsstand : Mauger Stab – Mauger (3 kilometers east of Barneville) (13 May)
Grenadier-Regiment 922 : Kommandeur : Oberstleutnant Franz Müller
HQ/Gefechtsstand : Haquets Stab – Haquais (1 kilometer west of Pierreville) (13 May)
Artillerie-Regiment 243 : Kommandeur : Oberst Eduard Hellwig
HQ/Gefechtsstand : Le Vretot Stab – 500 meters southwest of Le Vretot (8 kilometers west of Bricquebec) (15 May)
Equipment of the artillery regiment consisted of Russian 7, 62 cm guns in I. and II. Abteilung. The III. Abteilung had Russian 12,2 cm howitzers in batteries 7 – 9, while 10. Batterie had Russian 12,2 cm guns. All batteries had four artillery pieces each. They were all motorized.
Pionier-Bataillon 243 : Kdr : Major Hans Moser
Gefechtsstand : Les Pieux
With only two companies the pionier-bataillon was relatively weak. It had 19 machine guns. Both companies were equipped with bicycles.11
Panzerjäger-Abteilung 243 (Pz.Jg.Abt.243) : Kdr : Oberleutnant Franz Fallnich
HQ/Gefechtsstand : La Commanderie Stab – La Commanderie (6 kilometers east of Les Pieux) (13 May)
The Panzerjäger Abteilung had 14 Marder 38 and 10 StuG III.7 They had been sent to the division in March 1944.8 Also the battalion had a company with twelve 2 cm Flak guns.9 One of these was on tracked chassis, while two were motorized.
Panzerabteilung 206 : Kommandeur : Major Ernst Wenk
Gefechtsstand : Auderville Pz.Abt.206 (1 April, 385) – area east of Bricquebec (10 May)
Schweres Stellungswerferregiment 101 : Kommandeur : Major Rasner
Gefechtsstand : Vasteville
I./101 (CP: Aumeville) -II./101 (CP: Quetteville) -III./101 (CP: Le Gardot)
H.K.A. (Heereskustenartillerie) Regt.1262 – Stell.Werf.Regt.101 (o. I., est. 800) completed arrival on 12 May 1944.
MG.Btl.17 (1 May, 632) Stab – Beaumont-Hague (16 May)
Attached: 2./Ost-Btl.797 (I./Gren.Regt.739) – St. Lô d’Ourville (8 May) 1.Bttr. Ost-Bataillon 561 (Rus.)
HQ/Gefechtsstand : Flamanville
1. All infantry battalions had 44 light machine guns, except II./921 which had 46 and I./922 which had 45.
2. The number of mortars were eight per battalion, except I./921 which had ten. All mortars had a calibre of 8 cm.
3. Each infantry regiment had one infantry howitzer company with six Russian 7,62 cm infantry howitzers. Also each
regiment had one company with three 7,5 cm AT guns.
4. All infantry companies, except those of 920. Rgt were equipped with bicycles.
5. The field replacement battalion had four companies. Equipment consisted of 48 machine guns and one mortar.)
When the allies landed, the 243. Division was deployed on the western side of the Cotentin peninsula. Thus it was gradually drawn into the battle. Parts of the division were encircled in Cherbourg, but also those parts not cut off had substantial casualties. Among the elements not surrounded losses amounted to 55 % among the infantry, 25 % in the artillery, 30-40 % among AT units and 90 % of the engineers. The figures apply to the period 6 – 24 June. Altogether the divison had losses of 8,189 men from D-Day to 11 July.14 The ‘front-line’ strength only amounted to 700 men on 10 July.
Generalleutnant Wilhelm Falley
91.LL.Div Tactical Symbol
HQ/Gefchtstandt: Château “Haut de Bernaville”
As Oberstleutnant he was awarded for bravery the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 26 November 1941. Promoted Oberst in February 1942, he became commander of an officers’ school, until June 1943. Promoted to Generalmajor in December 1943, and Generalleutnant in May 1944, he held various commands before being appointed Commander of the 91st Luftlande Infanterie-Division in April 1944. He was ambushed in his staff car and killed during the night of June 6th, on his return from the ‘Planspiel’ at Rennes in Brittany.
91.LL.Div was raised in early 1944. It consisted of 2 Grenadier Regiments, each with 3 Battalions, a Fusilier Kompanie used as a reconnaissance unit, an Artillery Regiment with a heavy Battalion of 12 x 155mm guns and 2 Battalions with 12 x 105mm guns. The division received special training in anti-air landing operations and was the right unit in the right place on June 6th 1944, however co-ordination of this unit was in dis-array after the loss of its commander.
Division and its attachments were A.K. Reserve positioned between 709ID, defending the east coast and Cherbourg and 243ID. defending the west coast. The Division was sent to LXXXIV Corps about 1 May 1944 where it formed part of the static defenses of the Cotentin Peninsula. The division was strengthened by the attachment of Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 6 and Panzer-Ersatz- und Ausbildungs-Abteilung 100. Elements of the division was engaged on D-Day, counterattacking US paratroopers on the Cotentin. The division was destroyed near Cherbourg on 22 June 1944 and disbanded on 10 August 1944.
91. Luftlande Infanterie-Division
OOB 6th June 1944
Kommandeur : Generalleutnant Wilhelm Falley (25 Apr 1944 – 6 June 1944) (KIA)
Generalmajor Bernhard Klosterkemper (6 June 1944 – 10 June 1944)
HQ/Gefechtsstand : Château “Haut de Bernaville”
Grenadier-Regiment 1057 (Three Battalions) : Kommandeur : Oberst Sylvester von Saldern
Grenadier-Regiment 1058 (Three Battalions): Kommandeur : Oberst Kurt Beigang
Gebirgs-Artillerie-Regiment 191 : Kommandeur : Oberstleutnant Heinrich Kiewitt
HQ/Gefechtsstand : Les Carrières
I./191 : 12x 10,5cm GebH 40
II./191 :12x 10,5cm GebH 40
III./191 : 12x 15cm sFH 18
A particular problem for the division was that two of its artillery battalions were equipped with 10,5 cm Geb.Haub. 40, a mountain howitzer that used ammunition that was not interchangeable with the standard German 10,5 cm field howitzer. When the division arrived in Normandy it had only one basic load of ammunition for this weapon. During the fighting it received very little supply of this ammo and these howitzers had to be sent away and be replaced with other weapons. This made the equipment of the artillery regiment very mixed.6
Feld-Ersatz-Bataillon 91 : Kdr : Oberstleutnant Witte
Panzerjäger-Abteilung 191 : Kdr : Oberleutnant Reimer
Pionier-Bataillon 191 : Kdr : Leutnant Bonecamp
Nachrichten-Abteilung 191 : Kdr : Hauptmann Günter Buchreihs
Fallschirmjäger Regiment 6 : Kommandeur : Major Freidrich-August Freiherr von der Heydte
HQ/Gefechtsstand : La Hotellerie Gefechtsstand. – 1 kilometer north of Gerville (4 kilometers southeast of La Haye du Puit)
Artillerieregiment z.b.V. 621 : Kommandeur : Oberstleutnant Hermann Seidel
HQ/Gefechtsstand – St.-Come-du-Mont
Artillerie-Abteilung 456 Gefechtsstand : Negreville
Artillerie-Abteilung 457 Gefechtsstand : Quettetot
Up to 12 June the 91. Inf.Div. lost 2 212 men killed, wounded and missing. Losses continued to mount and it was reported that the division lost 85 % of its infantry soldiers between 6 and 24 June. During the same period it lost 21 % of the artillery manpower, 76 % of the engineers and 48 % of the AT units personnel.
On 27 June the division could no longer be regarded to be regularly organized and by 23 July only had two infantry battalions left, and these were merely skeletons plus one lent to 243. Inf.Div. Since the division was seriously depleted its remaining elements were withdrawn to beef up other units. Casualties in the division, excluding subordinated units, amounted to about 5 000 men.
Combat Operations – KVA “J1” (Küsten Verteidigung Abschnitt – Divisional Costal Defensive Section), Cotentin Peninsula from 6th June to 9th June 1944 on the Allied landing beach codenamed “Utah” –
0100hrs: LXXXIV A.K. HQ at St-Lô got the first warnings of a potential Allied operation around 2330hrs on 5 Jun when aircraft warning stations at Cherbourg picked up the Allied transports.
0130hrs: Parachute landings reported – US 82nd Airborne Division under Major General Matthew Ridgway and the US 101st Airborne Division under Major General Maxwell Taylor are dropped throughout the peninsula.
0300hrs towns such as Ste-Mère-Église were reporting attacks by enemy units of company strength..
0505hrs saw the first combat action at the landing beach when H.K.A. (Heereskustenartillerie) Regt.1262 coastal batteries fired on Allied ships as they were sighted on the horizon; most of these batteries remain active until later that afternoon. Allied naval bombardment began at 0550hrs, aided by aerial bombardment by IX Bomber Command. Unlike the Allied aerial bombardment at Omaha Beach, that at Utah Beach was much more effective, hitting bunkers, and other defences close to the beaches.
0600hrs, Major General Raymond Barton’s US 4th Infantry Division, with armoured support from the US 70th Tank Battalion, veterans of North Africa and Sicily, ‘hit’ the ‘beaches’ – divided into three sectors: ‘Uncle Red’ – ‘Tare Green’ – ‘Victor’. The landing troops quickly made a temporary beachhead, and soon after they were supported by 28 (out of 32) duplex-drive tanks, operated by the 70th Tank Battalion, which led them to breach the seawall. DD or Duplex Drive tanks, variant of the M4 Sherman medium tank, 75 mm Gun M2/M3/M6 that was used by the Western Allies during and after the Normandy Landings in June 1944.
Reaction of LXXXIV A.K. to the Landing on ‘Utah Beach’
Because of the absence of the Corp’s divisional commanders at a tactical exercise in Rennes and the loss of one, Generalleutnant Wilhelm Falley killed on 6th June while returning to his unit, the 709ID and 91LL lost valuable time reacting to the Allied attack. Although several counterattacks were made at various locations, the Allied airborne troops were largely able to achieve their D-Day objectives.
Faced with the unenviable task of opposing the Allied landing at “Utah” beach were three battalions of the 709th Division and further inland elements of the 91LL, better trained and more mobile, with the 243rd which was several miles away on the Western shore. No armour was immediately available in the area except for the Panzer Ersatz und Ausbildungs Abteilung 100, (PzAbt100) equipped with older German and captured French equipment, positioned in the area south of the Douve River with their HQ located in the chateau of Francquetot.
German Tactical Situation Map – 6.6.1944, 22hrs
6th June 1944: Defending the Beach at ‘La Madeleine’ and ‘La Grande Dune’
0600hrs 6th June: The battalions of 709. Infanterie Division’s 795 (Georgian) and 919 Regiments were heavily engaged by Allied naval guns while defending the beaches against from US 4th Infantry Division now pouring ashore. While they were badly disorientated by the severity of the bombardment, actual German casualties inflicted by the naval and aerial barrage were low.
0700hrs: With the arrival of 28 M4 Sherman medium tanks with their 75 mm guns, operated by the 70th Tank Battalion, the task of reducing the beach defences and breaching the obstacles began in earnest. The strongpoint WN ‘Widerstandsnest’ 5 at La Grande Dune, La Madeleine, in the centre of the landing beaches was pounded by US naval batteries. Manned by a Zug (platoon) from 3./GR.919 and was commanded by Leutnant Arthur Jahnke, a young veteran of the Eastern Front and holder of the R.K., it included a 50mm anti-tank gun in a Bauform 667 casemate, two 50mm anti-tank guns in open concrete pits, one French 47mmanti-tank gun in a concrete pit, a Bauform 67 with a French tank turret and 37mm gun, four mortar and machine-gun Tobruks, and a half-dozen other bunkers and shelters. One of the Zug’s more exotic weapons was a group of ‘Goliath’ remote control demolition vehicles, a type of wire-guided tracked vehicle designed to be used like a land torpedo to attack high-value targets such as tanks and landing craft. These were deployed from small caves facing the beach. Unfortunately for the defenders the heavy bombardment both cut the wires of most of the ‘Goliaths’ and destroyed the 50mm guns in the open pits leaving the defences with only small arms to respond.
Further south the beaches – between Poupeville and Ravenouville, was held by elements of I./GR919 stationed in defensive positions, their fate was not recorded in detail due to their sudden envelopment. Communications between the battalion and the division headquarters were lost before noon on D-Day as US troops captured most of its strongpoints. Of the13 strongpoints, WNI to WN14 along the coast, all of the southern strongpoints closest to the US landings were taken by US forces on D-Day. The 2./GR.919 manned the WN6 strongpoint covering the western end of the Causeway leading inland and WN2a on the beach itself. It took nearly four hours for the US forces to overcome the grenadier defenders in house-to-house fighting.
Artillery support for the defenders in this sector included a battery from Sturm-Abteilung AOK7 west of Foucarville, and a battery of multiple rocket launchers from l./Nebelwerfer Regiment 100 south of Brucheville. There were also three batteries from an army coastal artillery regiment (HKAA.1261); the 1./HKAA. 1261 in St Martin-de-Varreville with four ex-Soviet122mm guns, the 2./HKAA.1261 in Azeville with four French Schneider 105mm guns, and the 3./HKAA1261 in Crisbecq with three massive 210mm Skoda guns. Unlike ‘Omaha’ beach the relatively flat ‘Utah’ had limited fields of fire, the battery positions were also well within the range of US naval guns and were picked off one by one as they began to shell the beaches. The last of the guns was silenced around 1800hrs on the 6th.
Battle at Widerstandsnest (Resistance Point) WN5
‘Widerstandsnest’ WN5 blocked the road inland to St-Marie-du-Mont and was an early target of the US 4th Division and armoured support. Infantry and tanks reduced the gun positions one by one and by 0900hrs the remaining members of the garrison surrendered. The preliminary bombardment proved to be extremely effective in suppressing the defences at WN5. Most of the open gun pits had been knocked out by the attacks, and even some of the enclosed bunkers had collapsed or were seriously damaged. One of the few defence positions intact was the well-protected Bauform 667 casemate on the southern fringe of WN5. Although casualties from the bombardment had been low, many of the defenders were stunned by the bomb blasts and naval gunfire. (Today a US museum and monument to the landings is built around some of the bunkers at ‘WN5’)
A second strongpoint WN4, (called Red House by US forces) was the HQ bunker of the commander of 3/GR.919, Lt. Jahnke, located immediately to the west of WN5 covering the main access causeway off the beach, held out until the evening and finally surrendered at 1530hrs. The beach obstacles in front of WN5 were far less extensive than those at neighbouring Omaha Beach, and the obstacles largely petered out in the area in front of Grande Dune where the landings actually occurred.
1500hrs: US forces formed a defensive perimeter of sorts westward from St-Germain-de-Varreville toward Ste-Mère-Église while 4th Division troops attempted to made contact with the 101st and 82nd airborne troops, whose ranks continued to grow as gliders brought in more men and heavy weapons throughout the day. The first IX Troop Glider Command wave alone consisted of 54 Horsa and 22 CG-4A gliders that delivered 437 men, 64 vehicles, 13 57-millimeter anti-tank guns, and 24 tons of various supplies. Throughout 6th June 4,000 infantry with heavy weapons, almost 300 vehicles, 100 artillery and a/tank pieces and 300 tons of supplies were landed. Slowly but surely the scattered elements of 709ID and 91ID were surrounded and pushed onto the defensive. US troops reached Turqueville, north of the beach, by the evening without meeting serious resistance.
1600hrs on 6th June: Ost-Btl. 797 remained along the west coast between Coutances and Periers engaged in anti-paratrooper operations, chasing the scattered US airborne troopers.
Ost-Btl 635 followed Fs.Jg.-Regt. 6 from the vicinity of Periers and advanced towards Carentan encountering many troopers of the 82nd and 101st and eventually joining III./Gren.-Regt. 1058 and Pz.-Abtl. 100 in attacking the southern face of the US beach and airhead. Elements of 91. Luftlande Infanterie-Division’s Gren.-Regt. 1057 attacked from west to east with the objectives of Ste. Mere Eglise and Chef du Pont. They had some successes, but eventually were stymied in their attempt to crush the 82nd airhead and so reverted to the defense.
Gren.-Regt. 1058 (-) was reinforced by the Sturm Btl.-7. A.O.K. and attempted to do the same from the north, but was also forced to the defensive.
2330hrs 6th June: ‘Utah Beach’ was considered secure. The US 4th Infantry Division had achieved its primary objectives at a cost of only 197 casualties, which was much lighter when compared to the much higher 2,000 casualties at the neighbouring and much more heavily defended Omaha Beach.
Meanwhile, two regiments of the US 4th Infantry Division moved north up the Cotentin Peninsula and met German resistance at coastal gun positions near Azeville and Crisbecq. With naval gunfire support, the troops slowly moved along the coast up the Cotentin Peninsula.
Throughout the following hours and days the various WN positions along the coast were destroyed when further airborne landings fell virtually on top of them. Those further north on the coast including WNIO, WNIOa, WNll and StP12 held out for another day or two, finally surrendering after running out of food and ammunition.
7Th June: D-Day+1
0900hrs 7 June remaining elements of 709 and the Ost battalions were largely contained in pockets but holding strategic ground, in particular the Turqueville / Fauville ridge, south of Ste-Mère-Église, the ridge covered the access road to this town.
709 Division’s units three battalions of Grenadier-Regiment 739 holding this ridge put up a strong defense against US forces in the immediate Utah Beach area, supported by three companies of the regiments Georgische Infanterie-Battalion 795. The Wehrmacht units, deployed around Turqueville and along the ridge Turqueville / Fauville were blocking leading elements of US 4th Inf Div. linking with 82nd Airborne in St. Mère Église. , while an early afternoon attack by GRI058, 1st and 2nd battalions fought their way into St. Mère Église, supported by StuG III assault guns were beaten back by column of tanks of C/746thTank Battalion arriving in SteMere-Eglise along the eastern road.
However among the Americans prisoners taken by the 795th was a Russian speaking US sergeant who persuaded some members of 4th Coy to surrender leaving a gap in the defences on the ridge. The company commander Oblt. Lomtatidse, faced with a battalion of the 82nd and two battalions of the 8th Infantry preparing to attack his depleted defensive position, decided to surrender. The rest of the 795th Bn withdrew to the west and by evening 739th Regiment facing strong US attacks were also to follow. They had fought well against elite US air and ground forces. The had a much harder fight against German units holding a ridge that covered the access road to Ste Mere-Eglise,
The 82nd Airborne was reinforced during the day by additional air-landings of the 325th Glider Infantry at 07.00 and 09.00hrs in the Les Forges area sealing the fate of the remaining Wehrmacht units in the area..
Finally, on the evening of 7 June a reinforced regiment (actually something of a misnomer, it was comprised of bits and pieces of Gren.-Regt. 920 and 921, along with other elements of the division and attachments) of 243. Inf.-Div. was also ordered to join the attack, but by the time they arrived pretty much the entire German force in the Cotentin had gone over to the defensive.
Despite the ages of the men in the 709.ID, the division fought very well right up until the collapse of “Fortress” Cherbourg. Under intense and constant aerial, artillery and naval bombardment by the Allied forces, with little manpower left due to casualties, the remaining soldiers of 709 surrendered to the Americans. The division itself was officially dissolved 25 July 1944.
Sources: Text for this series of articles are drawn from various sources on the web and published material. Material is assumed not to be subject to copyright.