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Cherbourg’s Bloody Toll

By Pat McTaggart

The 90th was a green division, newly arrived in Normandy and untested in battle. As the division advanced through the hedgerows and farmland, the carnage from the 82nd’s battle unnerved many of the young soldiers. One of the leading units suddenly opened fire on what appeared to be a large group of Germans advancing toward the Americans, killing or wounding almost all of them. A few minutes later it was found that the Germans were prisoners from the previous fighting and were being led back to the beach by a handful of American guards. It was the first of several mistakes that would plague the 90th on the Cotentin Peninsula.

While the 90th struggled in the Merderet bridgehead, the battle for Carentan was still in full swing. By June 9, Taylor’s Screaming Eagles had bypassed the town and occupied the village of Saint-Côme-du-Mont, four miles north of Carentan. The main prize, however, had still not been attained.

On June 8, the 4th Infantry Division and the 505th Paratroop Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne began an attack on the Quineville-Montebourg-Le Ham ridge, which had to be taken before Barton’s division could advance up the eastern coast of the peninsula. The position was held by an artillery group commanded by Major Friedrich Küppers, who had been personally chosen by von Schlieben to hold the ridge.

Throughout the evening of the 15th, sporadic firing broke the stillness of the front as the exhausted American and German troops tried to catch a few hours of rest. By daybreak, German NCOs were making their rounds, ensuring that their men were roused from sleep and ready to continue the battle.

A series of secondary positions had been constructed nearer the town, and the harbor itself contained a number of strongpoints and bunkers. Von Schlieben and Hennecke had their command posts in a huge underground bunker in the suburb of Octeville. The personnel inside the bunker were caught in a stifling underground world that had no air conditioning and little ventilation to clear the smells of men and battle.

Fort du Roule was a massive structure that contained several levels. Three sides of the fort had been carved out of steep cliffs that overlooked the ocean, and artillery batteries had been placed in the lower levels to ward off any would-be attacker. The landward side was the only practical avenue of attack, and it was strewn with pillboxes and machine-gun nests. Robinson’s men knew that they would be in for a rough day.

 

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