Today is the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion at Normandy.
My son Julio and I toured Normandy last month. His first visit to Normandy, my third. We rented a car and drove 1,100 kilometers in 2 days.
We visited the airborne drop zones. Walked Omaha and Utah beaches. Toured the famous battlefields — Brecourt Manor (detailed in HBO’s Band of Brothers) and La Fiere Bridge (inspired the final scenes in Saving Private Ryan).
And then we visited battlegrounds that very few people know about — the Timmes orchard, Angoville au Plaine, and Hill 314 at Mortain.
Literally hundreds of stories. Nowhere to start.
Tour guide Dale put it best: “If you haven’t seen Band of Brothers, for God’s sake sort your life out and see the best war story of all time!”
E Co., 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, is well documented on the internet and in Stephen Ambrose’s book. Few Easy veterans survive today. Winters is dealing with Parkinson’s Disease, Shifty Powers has cancer, Guarnere, the Band’s sparkplug then and now, has survived one heart attack. Forrest Guth is still touring. All in their late 80’s.
Our Battlebus tour followed Easy’s route on June 6, 1944. We saw where Winters landed, on the road from Ste. Mere Eglise to La Fiere Bridge.
Winters dodged the flak gun at the crossroads and walked up his C-47’s flight path to roll up his stick, skirting Ste. Mere Eglise to the north.
Guarnere landed where the white sign is, within sight of the infamous massacre in the churchyard.
Winters, Guarnere, Lipton and other scattered paratroopers joined Col. Cole’s group, 150 men, mostly 502nd, 507th, 508th PIR — a real hodgepodge. The large group could have captured Ste. Mere Eglise, but Cole was headed for his objective — Causeway #3 off Utah beach. Cole had landed on a rosebush, so he was mad as hell.
They ambushed a horse-drawn German supply unit delivering breakfast at the T-junction of D423 and D115.
Winters left Cole’s group and took his small band up the D115 to the D14. Winter’s objective was Causeway #2.
Cole saw little further action on D-Day (but he did lead the first bayonet charge since WWI five days later, for which he won the Medal of Honor — posthumously — for gallantry above and beyond the call of duty).
Winters had a bit more excitement on D-Day.
At this spot, below, Malarkey met up with the German POW from Oregon.
Speirs did not shoot this POW group down as in the HBO mini-series, but he had other incidents.
At the hamlet of le Grand Chemin, Winters met up with his battalion’s HQ.
He was ordered to silence a German gun battery just 75 yards away, which was firing on Utah beach.
The Germans had not posted any sentries, and, deafened by their own artillery pieces, did not sense that there was a gathering group of American paratroopers just 75 yards away.
Winters briefed his men here. The guns were just over the next hedgerow to the left.
Liebgot and Pleshe set up machine guns at a hedgerow in front of the battery.
Lipton and Compton flanked to the right, and Winters attacked straight ahead.
There were German machine guns in the hedgerow behind the guns — the battery was a 360-degree defense strongpoint.
There was another machine gun at the Manor itself, over a hundred yards away.
The attack took three hours.
Battlebus tour guide Allan showed us the artillery hedgerow. No trenches, no bunkers, just a ditch along the hedgerow.
German machine guns nested across the field to the left. Lipton’s tree stood among those in the middle distance, but has since been cut down.
Malarkey tried to get a Luger here. Guarnere and Lorraine fired on fleeing Germans. Wynn was shot in the butt, and Toye escaped injury from a grenade that Compton dropped. All of that really happened.
Not shown in the movie — Malarkey ran past the last gun, jammed his mortar tube into the hedgerow, and fired 3 shells at the Manor, just out of sight to the right.
One hit a corner of the Manor. One hit the lower window at left. And one went right through the upper window at center and took the machine gun out.
Winters ordered everyone to run back to Le Grand Chemin. Mission accomplished — the 105mm artillery guns were silenced. He would not risk his men to silence the machine gun nests, which was not the mission.
That afternoon, Winters guided several Sherman tanks around the back of the battle site. The tanks took out all the machine guns.
There is a photo of Malarkey revisiting Brecourt Manor with Battlebus in July, 2008.
Battlebus is the only tour group allowed on the field. The Manor’s owner buried all four 105mm guns in his farm. He left out a pair of arms from one of the gun traces.
He has received bids for up incredible amounts of money in exchange for the guns, but he won’t sell. Because the whole world wants them, and he has them. Normans are like that.
The young son of the Manor’s owner was shot, apparently by Speirs, shortly after the battle. He was treated at a hospital ship, and later became Mayor of Ste. Marie du Mont.
This battle is still studied at West Point as a lesson in small-unit tactics. A Distinguished Service Cross, three Silver Stars and nine Bronze Stars were awarded for this action alone.
A monument to E Co. stands at the D14 crossroads.
The stone plinth at the right has a granite tabletop etched with Winters’ hand sketch of the battle.
Posted on June 6, 2009 from San Francisco, CA.
Like I said, a gazillion stories. I’ll leave you with this one, for now. Conspicuous gallantry above and beyond… :
Lt. Col. Robert Cole’s Bayonet Charge
“When Cole and the remaining men of the battalion reached Bridge 4 there was less than a Company of men left … .”