Lieutenant Colonel Erasmus H. Strickland: “The way those people were dug in, the only way we could do anything to them was to get a direct hit on each individual hole. But we couldn’t see them on that trail while they knew exactly where we were.”
July 1944, the American troops of the 4th Infantry Division fought in the middle of the swamps and hedgerows. Especially South of the city of Carentan-les-Marais between the road Carentan-les-Marais – Périers (D-971) where all areas are made of swamps, hedgerows, orchards but mostly flat fields.
The battle of the hedgerows was one of the most terrible for the American troops. The Germans were in France since 1940. They had had the time to perfectly study the soil of Normandy. Thousands of underground shelters were built using the cover provided by the hedgerows.
The German troops were well prepared and hidden; emplacements with the purpose to hide tanks were built. Holes were dug in to hide the tanks, branches were cut to efficiently hide them. The Germans used the cover provided by the hedgerows to hide themselves, indeed thousands of deep shelters were excavated under the hedgerows. They had dug trenches like during the First World War, covered by boards, sheets of metal and pieces of wood.
Many weapon emplacements were dug in, all supported each others, and could fire in any directions.
Each hedgerow was used by the Germans, even the swamps had trenches. When the Americans crossed the swamps it gave the Germans the opportunity to shoot them down.
The Germans had everything prepared, were ready and waiting to take down the American troops.
Normandy American Heroes propose you to discover the story of the battle of Raffoville swamps from the 8th and 22nd Infantry Regiments's point of view.
8th Infantry Regiment
The enemy troops against whom "K" Company, 3rd Battalion of the 8th Infantry Regiment led by Captain Lyle P. Carmony had to fight against were different from the ones fought during the battle of Cherbourg.
Note: In June 1944 men fought against former Russian prisoners or from other nationalities forced to fight for the Third Reich.
This time the enemy was young teenagers aged 17 to 22 years old, raised with the Nazi ideology, trained by the Hitler Youth, and then enlisted in SS units.
On the 8th of July 1944, the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Infantry Regiment was 3 miles southwest of the city of Carentan in the lead, advancing with the support of a platoon of light tanks for some yards as the areas was completely mined.
This battalion continued its advance by crossing the creek which was the frontline.
Two companies of the 3rd Battalion (“I” and “L”) went forward about 1000 yards and were facing the Germans who were withdrawing but they succeeded in stopping them with heavy fire.
In the meantime, "K" Company was stopped by a farmhouse 600 yards to the East of the village of Raffoville. Just before noon all companies of the 3rd Battalion were facing the first German resistance line...
While "K" Company was dealing with the Germans at the farmhouse, "I" and "L" Companies were also facing the enemy.
Captain Carmony found a path between two hedgerows where he succeeded in reaching the trail of the village of Raffoville. Captain Carmony would later state: "I fought my way across two entrenched hedgerows and reached the trail coming from the village or Raffoville. This trail is no more than a cart path sunk between high, heavily wooded hedgerows. Here the Germans defended their ground fiercely. They had a great many skilfully placed weapons in the trail and in all the hedgerows behind it and on both flanks. Their mortars previously registered in, pounded our troops while the Germans just across the hedgerow in their deep entrenchments and holes were safe from our fire".
The advance of the 3rd Battalion was difficult, the Germans were well dug in and protected from hand grenade fighting. "I" and "L" Companies were stopped from progressing in the orchards.
At 1100 hours "K" Company found shelter between two hedgerows but after passing a little creek they came under heavy artillery fire. The Germans had them pinned down from the farmhouse but also from the orchards all around them.
Some men of "K" Company tried to pass by one hedgerow but were stopped by the machine gun nests each time they tried it.
Captain Carmony knew that if they wanted to succeed and save their lives, they would have to seize the farmhouse.
One patrol led by Lieutenant Irons with its bazooka, two men with their rifle grenades, four riflemen and a Tommy gun were ordered to fire unto the farm.
Captain Carmony took command of Lieutenant’s Irons platoon (5 men) and gained the hedgerow just in front of the main building of the farm. German soldiers fired on him but he succeeded to duck from the bullets of an automatic weapon. The bullets ended up in the wall, just above the Captain’s head. In the meantime, Lieutenant’s Irons little Task Force silenced the Germans in the barns and in the house but Lieutenant Irons paid the ultimate sacrifice. A German soldier hidden under a culvert killed him in the back. When the Task Force reported they had succeeded in taking the buildings, Captain Carmony told his men: "Let's get the hell in there quick before the Jerries occupy it again".
Then Captain Carmony asked the support of the tanks as he found a place where they could get into the north of the farm. The tanks fired on the orchards but the Germans were unscathed as they had simply withdrawn to the next hedgerow where machine gun nests, gun positions were waiting for the 3rd Battalion!
Captain Carmony didn't want to leave the dead body of his band of brothers rotting in the sun or eaten by the crows. Lieutenant Irons was lying in the back of the barn but the men couldn't get to him. This is when Captain Carmony decided, with the protection fo one tank and four men to go around the barn at the east of the farm.
Two mortar shells fell in front and at the back of the tank but miraculously didn't damage it. This didn't stop the Germans to continue to fire on them with all their strength!
Later in the afternoon, Captain Carmony saw some men coming up, firing in the enemy direction. It was the regiment with which he was to make contact. By the end of the day, "K" Company of the 3rd Battalion was sent back as reserve battalion.
On the morning of the 9th of July 1944, a coordinated attacked the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Infantry Regiment was ordered.
Unfortunately, the men of the 3rd Battalion, already tired of the previous day battle, had to attack the Germans alone as the 2nd Battalion was late to come into battle! As the 2nd Battalion was late, "K" Company was called back on the frontline.
Captain Carmony stated: "Every time we would stick our heads up, they would button us down. Just off our left flank they had a machine gun in the forward side of a hedgerow, dug in so well with just a slit to fire from. Our mortars, bazookas and grenades just couldn't destroy it. That enemy position controlled totally the field. We held all day along that hedgerow and around the house on our left. I tried to move a tank to the southeast to get on their flank, but as the tank came around the house it was knocked out by an 88! The next day we found the 88 mm gun position just 200 yards to the south".
Since the 8th of July, the Germans were holding down the 3rd Battalion. The attack was called off and the men waited until the arrival of the 2nd Battalion.
At 1700 hours, on the 9th of July 1944, both battalions attacked the German positions but they had to withdraw back to their line of departure.
The American troops fired with their artillery on the German positions but as they were so well protected, thanks to their dug in emplacements, the firing was inefficient.
The German emplacements were, like during the First World War, so well dug in and protected that Lieutenant Colonel Strickland or was it Lieutenant Colonel Carlton O. McNeely of the 2nd Battalion, only God knows, stated: "The amount of digging in these areas is amazing!"
On the morning of the 10th of July 1944, the attack was renewed for the third time after an even heavier bombardment than the previous day, but again it didn't cause too much damage in the German lines.
Then, around 0730 hours, a German soldier came out of the trenches with a white flag! He wanted to talk with Captain Carmony of "K" Company of the 3rd Battalion.
As the translation between the German and the American was not possible, Captain Carmony asked for an interpreted thinking all this was to surrender. The reason why he believed the Germans wanted to surrender was from his past experience in the battle of Cherbourg where Germans surrendered after intense artillery fire.
But there he could sense it was a trick as the German soldier didn't want to cross the American lines, the talking took place in the middle of the No Man's Land. After a couple of minutes of arguing a German Major came to confirm they actually were ready to surrender but all of a sudden the American artillery opened up fire ending the parley!
Once the American artillery barrage had ended, the Germans who were well hidden in shells craters came out offering that an American officer come out to their CP to discuss the terms of surrender.
Colonel James A. Van Fleet, who had landed at Utah with the 1st wave said: "No, tell them to come out now or we attack". The Germans refused, Captain Carmony then said to the Germans: "Go back in your holes, we are coming".
The 2nd and 3rd Battalions attacked once again the German positions with light tanks but the one leading was destroyed by a mine, it was the end of the tank support in the attack!
Then the American mortars opened up fire on the enemy, Captain Carmony stated: "Our 60 mm mortars laid down the most beautiful fire I ever saw along the top of the hedgerow. There were still burned places along the hedgerows about every five feet where the shells hit. The Germans must have dropped into their holes during the fire. Nothing could have lived on this hedgerow while the shells were exploding. "
Men were advancing on the sunken trial but six machine gun nests opened fire on them.
Some of the men succeeded in locating the German guns. Captain Carmony ordered to concentrate the 4.2 mm mortars and 81 mm guns on those positions.
"The firing was so precise that I said, give me another of those! After this shelling, no Germans could have survived even if they had been well protected and dug in" said Captain Carmony.
The 4.2 mm mortars fired smoke shells to hide the advance of Captain Carmony and his men. Unfortunately, the Germans were so well dug in that the firing from the mortars and guns didn't hit one German! Captain Carmony lost four men KIA and 11 WIA of the third platoon. All platoons were stopped on the spot.
Around 1500 hours it was decided to bring on the frontline 9 medium tanks, one equipped with a dozer.
The 5th attack on the German positions took place at 1900 hours. As the German units that the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 8th Infantry Regiment had to fight against were SS soldiers, needless to say that the enemy didn't give up so easily!
Captain Carmony heard them coming when he was on his way to a battalion call for action: "I had just gone about 150 yards when I heard the Germans opening up fire on my frontlines with small arms, mortars and potato mashers." I said: "They are just feeling us out to see if we are still there. For about a minute the firing continued then suddenly stopped. Then I knew it was a counterattack because they never repeat their scouting out missions. I had nearly reached the battalion and ran to a phone to call my axis. Neel, I said, are they counterattacking?" "Hell yes" replied Neel. "The mortars are all set" I told him. "Drop them in the hole, push the 3rd Platoon to the left to cover the draw and tell the 2nd Platoon to cover the right flank of the 1st Platoon".
The German counterattack was the best thing which could have happened for the Americans! Why? Because the Germans came out of their emplacements and the American troops started to fire on them with their mortars.
Lieutenant Winters, the Artillery Liaison Officer, was preparing his guns for the attack scheduled at 1900 hours.
The German counterattack ended around 1900 hours, it was now time for the American tanks and men to attack.
The tanks attacked in three waves and were behind "K" Company to support them. The tank dozer was in the lead and broke through the enemy lines, the rest of the tanks followed and the infantry men killed the Germans who were still in their foxholes.
The attack ended at 2030 hours with the Germans running away. The enemy who was routed escaped across the Hamlet Les Aubrées (near D-971) crossing the bridge 500 yards southwest. After the crossing of the bridge, the fleeing Germans were spotted by Artillery observers and were killed by one battalion southwest of the Hamlet.
22nd Infantry Regiment
The 22nd Infantry Regiment encountered the first enemies at the creek of the hamlet Culot (D-543), the Germans had built outposts which was their first line of defense.
The 2nd Battalion of the 22nd Infantry Regiment commanded by Major Earl W. Edwards succeeded in pushing the Germans to retreat with the support of the air bombardment from 0845 to 0900 hours followed by the artillery barrage falling on them for about 15 minutes.
But at 0930 hours, the Germans came back with 3 tanks to deal with the men of 2nd Battalion arriving from the main road (D-971) .
One German tank sprayed the hedgerows were the 2nd Battalion was, indeed the men were not dug in because they had only been there for about 10 minutes!
In the war soldiers risked their lives for our freedom but some of them did gestures of bravery such as Private Hicks. This private decided to leave the hedgerow in which he was hidden, to run to the corner of a house and fire on the German tank which was machine gunning his band of brothers. Private Hicks fired 4 shells, hit the tank and the last one blew it up!
The second German tank decided to withdraw in the orchards, at the West of the 2nd Battalion when his driver saw just what had happened. The last tank was blocked on the road due to a destroyed American tank which was blocking the road.
Suddenly the men of the 2nd Battalion were under German mortars fire, guns fire (88’s mm) and automatics fire.
The 44th Field Artillery answered by firing on the German who were coming to support the men, especially those from “F” Company. The fire made by the artillery was so heavy that the fields were fully obscured by the smoke.
2nd Lieutenant Clark from "F" Company and 6 of his men decided to stay where they were because the German fire was still heavy even with the artillery support.
While the 1st Battalion had almost reached the village of Neuville (Sainteny) at the West of Culot, the 2nd Battalion was planning their attack, scheduled on the 9th of July 1944.
"E" Company would be moving through the position of "F" Company, take the orchards at the West of Culot then push on to the village of Sainteny (D-297).
The attack went well as Company “F” succeeded in taking the orchards and seizing the hamlet of Les Forges.
In this attack men of 22nd Infantry Regiment were supported by 6 medium tanks, 81’s mm and 4.2’s mm mortars. The hamlet of Les Forges was completely destroyed due to the fire made by the 81’s mm mortars.
Note: The fire provided by the mortars allowed the men of "F" Company to seize and hold Les Forges hamlet.
During this attack, Private Hicks succeeded in destroying with his bazooka his second Panther Mark V’s (German tank)!
On the 10th of July 1944, "E" and "G" Companies attacked the German positions at 0830 hours, but the retreat made by the Germans was strategic, they withdrew to the next hedgerow which was much better defended than the one they just had left.
While the German soldiers were retreating, their mortars fired on the men of "E" and "G" Companies killing 2nd Lieutenant Alexander P. Didonate from "E" Company.
Before noon “F” Company had arrived to relieve “G” Company. In the meantime the 3rd Battalion led by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur S. Teague of the 22nd Infantry Regiment arrived on the left of the 2nd Battalion to support them.
That day, Private Hicks got his third German Tank (Panther Mark V)! Private Hicks was posted on the corner of a hedgerow, hidden by a tree, fired 3 bazooka shells on the tank which was 5 yards ahead of him (He was so close that the explosion scorched his face) and destroyed it. Sadly, Private Hicks will be killed in action on the 12th of July 1944.
For the next two days, the men of the 22nd Infantry Regiment encountered a determined enemy, well protected. Casualties among the men and officers were high:
- "G" Company, 50 casualties. Lieutenant James O. Jackson, commanding "G" Company, wounded.
- Captain James B. Burnside, 2nd Battalion Executive Officer, wounded
The 2nd Battalion had 17 officers on the 8th of July 1944 ready to fight, 4 days later only 9 officers were still able to combat.
On the 12th of July 1944, Americans and Germans were fighting hand-to-hand, the German decided to fire once again with their artillery, the casualties among the men of 22nd Infantry Regiment increased.
Men from the reserve had to be sent on the frontline to strengthen the lines and one company from the 12th Infantry Regiment had to support them.
The courage of the American allowed them not to give up even after the German intense artillery shelling had increased the number of casualties.
1st Sergeant William L. Kenyon from “G” Company collected 15 men and took over a section of the front saying: “I’ve taken this part of the front and I’m going to hold it!”
Sergeant William L. Kenyon paid the ultimate sacrifice on February 8th, 1945. He was awarded the Silverstar posthumously for gallantry in action. His company was almost out of action, he decided to take command when the Germans were counterattacking them. Knowing that many of his wounded men were still laying in the frontline, he went forward and succeeded to evacuate four of them. Sergeant Kenyon is buried at the Henry Chapelle American Cemetery, Plot G ; Row 8 ; Grave 55
Written by Pierre Fallet, WWII Trainee of Normandy American Heroes