After the taking of Fortress Cherbourg, a new chapter of war was waiting the soldiers of the 79th Infantry Division. Where? Around La-Haye-du-Puits. Cherbourg had been intense but the men were not prepared for what was about to come.
After many days of heavy battles, Cherbourg became quiet again. The last bullets were fired, dust had settled, inhabitants started to come back to their property. Roads which had been attacked by the weight of the tanks, guns and armored vehicles, found their usual passengers once again: civilians with their belongings, cart wheels, and horses’ hoofs.
French family just came back in their home at Cherbourg
As the inhabitants of the city started to come back, many soldiers of the 79th Infantry Division wanted to leave the place, but why? They were aware of the happiness of the locals but their minds were not ready in celebrating victory. Their first thoughts were for their dead band of brothers, killed near Saint-Jacques-de-Néhou, along the highway Valognes – Cherbourg or in the city itself. Each dead body represented a mother, a father, a brother who was waiting for the return of their beloved son or brother. Maybe this one had a fiancé at home? And him? He probably promised his little brother to go hunting or fishing together once the war was over?
Nevertheless, men were proud of their taking and started to move to “concentration 26” also known as the hamlet of La Glacerie, south of Cherbourg . This place was the scene of a former battle, it was all peaceful now. The 313th Infantry Regiment stayed there for one day, from the 27th to the 28th of June 1944 then moved southwest to Le Valdécie to have some days of rest, to heal wounds and to receive replacements from England. until the 2nd of July 1944.
US soldiers resting somewhere in Normandy, July 1944.
The regiment was placed on July 2nd into division reserve, at Le Mesnil formerly Saint Martin du Mesnil. Once Cherbourg fell, the next mission of the American forces was to push south further in the Normandy bocage. The objective of the 79th Infantry Division on July, 3rd 1944, was to destroy the German lines around 3,72 miles at the south. Precisely the high ground north and east of Lessay. To accomplish the mission a Task Force consisting of the 1st Battalion of Antitank Company, Cannon Company and “A” Company of the 746th Tank Battalion was created.
The 313th Infantry Regiment left Le Valdécie on July 3rd at 0700pm to a position near the hamlet of La Grande Huanville. Instructions were received to reconnoiter the areas for a possible assembly area at Canville-la-Rocque at the east. In the meantime, the other two attacking regiments were progressing through hedgerows, swamps and streams, but the rain forced the division to slow down its advance. By nightfall, men of the 313th Infantry Regiment reached the areas around Baudreville exactly at the west of the 314th and 315th Infantry Regiments which were onto frontlines.
The Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered that all available artillery guns fire one round on the Germans to celebrate the day of independence of the United States at noon exactly. It was Independence Day but not for the Germans.
4th of July 1944, Independence Day!
The enemy decided to answer back by firing artillery shells from late afternoon until 0630am on July, 5th, 1944!
While the Germans were firing, the 313th Infantry Regiment received an order to be ready for an attack scheduled in the early hours of the 5th of July 1944. The objective of the mission was to surround the German forces before they could reach the outskirts of Lessay. Every detail was checked and everything was planned so the regiment could skirt, passing by the west, the main German forces.
The 1st Battalion was in the lead, the 2nd Battalion in the middle and the 3rd Battalion at the rear. Three battalions encountered light resistance but the rain, shells and armored vehicles destroyed all roads making them impracticable. Two miles before the main German positions, a Task Force composed of “K” and “A” Companies of the 749th Tank Battalion which had the order to follow the 1st Battalion was given the mission to find an adequate road and to seize bridges at “Concentration 55” (see map below).
Upon its arrival at the hamlet of Glatigny, Task Force was followed by error by the 1st Battalion which mission was to turn south to skirt the German positions. The battalion did this mistake because of a lack of landmarks and heavy rain. As the Task Force was approaching “Concentration 55”, the German resistance became stronger and stronger, small arms fire became artillery and mortar fire. Tanks had to deploy on the north of the road but the increasing artillery fire stopped them.
The mistake made by the 1st Battalion in following the Task Force became for a couple of minutes an advantage, why? As tanks were blocked due to the artillery fire only infantry could accomplish the job. Each piece of ground was covered by machine gun nests, which were supported by artillery and mortar fire.
170mm guns, and various kind of artillery guns were defending “Concentration 55”. The mission? A suicide. Only the courage of the men could do it!
The 1st Battalion attacked with “A” Company on the east side of the road and “B” Company on the west, the line of departure was a hedgerow. Men attacked toward the south while the German artillery was delivering hell on them, forcing them to find shelter in a ditch. At this point only God could save them. In the meantime, “K” Company of the 749th Tank Battalion was attacking, succeeded in establishing itself just north of “Concentration 55”. While “A” and “B” Companies were hidden in a ditch, artillery fire all the sudden stopped. It meant only one thing. An Infantry counterattack!
Two German counterattacks were launched against the 1st Battalion but both of them were repulsed. (Around two German companies attacked). As the counterattacks were repulsed, hell, again fell on the American forces forcing the Task Force and 1st Battalion to withdraw due to the increasing number of casualties.
During the morning of July 5th, the 313th Infantry Regiment moved in the vicinity of Saint-Rémy-des-Landes, then west and south to flank the German resistance. Scheduled at 0400pm on the next day, 3rd Battalion on the right, 2nd Battalion on the left (1st Battalion was in the rear as reserve) left their line of departure which was a road running east and west about 1000 meters at the north of “Concentration 55”. As the previous day, German resistance was strong, with well dug in emplacements, used as shelters, machine gun nests covered by barbed wire. In view, of this strength, the regiment decided it was not wise to continue the attack and withdrew to its line of departure.
On the 7th, the 313th Infantry Regiment moved to a new assembly area in the vicinity of La Gosselinnerie at the west of La Haye du Puits to continue their attack to the south. The spirit of pride and courage started to disappear due the incessant artillery fire and casualties. The men had seen their comrades fall during two attacks without any results. Although they had no hope not to meet another German resistance, a third attack was launched by columns of Battalions (2nd in lead, 3rd following the 2nd and 1st in the rear). Passing through the 315th Infantry Regiment’s area near Montgardon over Hill 84, the regiment was again welcomed by heavy German artillery fire. But this time Germans counterattacked with infantrymen supported by artillery fire which was supported by tanks.
Upon their arrival to “concentration 55” they were forced to stop as friendly tanks and artillery could not provide a fire support further forward than the road leading from La Surelière to Biemont. Troops spent the 8th of July 1944 in their foxholes receiving heavy artillery fire.
On July 9th, finally a rest for the men of the 313th Infantry Regiment! After being relieved by the 315th Infantry Regiment, men moved to an assembly area approximately 0,62 miles to the north of the village of Montgardon in the vicinity of La Gosselinnerie. As the 313th and 315th Infantry Regiments were exhausted, Hill 84 had to be held, reinforcements were more than necessary. The 3rd Battalion of the 313th was then attached to the 315th as the Germans were fighting until the last. Hill 84 was the last commanding post of the enemy at the north of Lessay.
While the 3rd Battalion was dealing to take Hill 84, the 1st and 2nd Battalions in their assembly area received hedgerows fighting training. Replacements also came in during the following days. At 0600 hours on the 11th of July, the regiment resumed its advance toward Lessay by passing the road La-Haye-du-Puits – Lessay. Light resistance was encountered but the lack of organization and contact was hard to maintain, the advance was slowed down.
Some soldiers described the situation: “The units were so small and the amount of ground that had to be covered was so great, that a concerted effort was difficult to make”.
The regiment went south and moved to the vicinity of Angoville-sur-Ay and Hameau d’Hierville.
Note: During the night of the 11th to 12th of July, elements of the 1st Battalion set up a Task Force to occupy the town of Le Bot). Patrols were sent to reconnoiter areas until 0718am on July 13th. The attack was resumed on the 13th, meeting slight resistance.
It was on the next day, that vigorous patrolling were initiated in an effort to determine the remaining German strength. Information came from patrolling and prisoners that the enemy had escaped at 1100pm on the 13th of July by passing across the river at the south of Lessay. For the next two days the regiment sent patrols all the way south to the Ay river to determine if Germans were still on the other bank of the river. It was not before the 15th of July 1944 that the 313th Infantry Regiment was ordered to move at the east of Montgardon as a mobile reserve.
Fightings around La Haye du Puits pushed the 313th Infantry Regiment to find in its retrenchment the necessary strength and courage to break the enormous German resistance.
The enthusiasm of the battle of Cherbourg had disappeared, the enemy was not the same! They were Georgians, Russians and well trained and determined SS soldiers of the infamous 2nd Panzer Division SS Das Reich. Most of them were fanatical and dedicated to the Führer himself, Adolf Hitler.
The courage and strength provided by God allowed the 313th Infantry Regiment to overrun the enemy.
The effort might have seemed easy in retrospect, but it had cost close to 2,000 men, one of them being Private William M Rowan of the 313th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division enrolled 27 August 1943 in Toledo, Ohio, Killed in Action at the age of 19, July the 13th 1944 in the area of Angoville-sur-Ay. Resting today at the Normandy American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, Plot F - Row 6 - Grave 7
Written by Pierre Fallet, Normandy American Heroes