L Company, Beau Coudray

The small field, center left is the site where L/357 became isolated and stood against constant pressure before being destroyed or surrendering 7 July 1944. One group of infiltrators made it back to friendly lines by morning of 8 July.
Here is the revised Beau Coudray map. Note the new tree style. The small field, center left is the site where L/357 became isolated.

Fighting at Beau Coudray was a classic grand tactical problem often encountered in WW1. Once an attack had carried a position, holding was a matter of how quickly supply could be brought up. Bocage, per usual, makes lines of communication difficult to maintain. The Battle of Sèves Island would feature a similar challenge with the addition of uncooperative weather. Beau Coudray sits atop a ridge and defending the reverse slope proved to be very difficult.

In the above image, the five-hex field at center left is the spot where the survivors of L company, 357IR became isolated after losing contact once neighboring companies withdrew under pressure from a mixed paratroop/armored force. It fought hard throughout the day, 7 July 1944, finally succumbing before morning of 8 July. The survivors’ accounts I could find implied such desperation on the part of the Germans that at one point they may have mounted a bayonet charge. Try as he might, the commander of 357 could not reorganize his exhausted battalions quickly enough to relieve L company. The town would have to be retaken.

From the division history:

During the morning hours, a very few men from I and L Co worked their way back to our lines and reported that the great bulk of the two isolated companies had been killed or captured. There was no sound of battle from their last reported positions and it was consequently clear that our resistance in that area had ended.

It has been suggested recently in wargaming circles that the presence of vehicles, enemy or otherwise, was a rare experience for the average WW2 soldier. Those soldiers were not at Beau Coudray nor would I imagine that they could have numbered in the ranks of 90ID, who came up against combined-arms counterattacks over several notable actions. Perhaps the suggestion rests on the reality of the stunningly high casualty rates in rifle companies. It would be interesting to calculate the average number of days in the line a rifleman could expect to see; I’m sure such a figure must exist. In any case, wargames don’t trace individual soldiers. Not this one, anyway. Tactical commanders who fought in 90ID had to constantly worry about the possibility of mechanized attack. So should players of From the Ground Up.

Field where I Coy became isolated 8/9 July 1944.
Field where L Coy became isolated 8/9 July 1944.

9 June

The manor at La Fière is at lower left. It must be imagined, in this postwar photo, that the fields to the north and south of the causeway are completely flooded. German defenses began immediately on the other side at the time of Norris's arrival.
The manor at La Fière is at lower left. It must be imagined, in this postwar photo, that the fields to the north and south of the causeway are completely flooded. German defenses began immediately on the other side at the time of Norris’s arrival.

As the 90th’s artillery battalions organize, the divisional artillery commander, BG John Devine sends liaison and fire direction officers to Ste Mère Eglise to meet up with his former West Point classmate Matt Ridgeway, then directing the fight to consolidate a bridgehead at La Fière.

In the presence of the MG Collins, the corps commander, LTC Norris speaks up, suggesting that his battalion of 155mm guns might be able to support the attack to secure the causeway if it were delayed by two hours. On his advice, Gavin is delayed. This must have been a delicate calculation. Balanced against the advantage of Norris’s guns, waiting two hours meant the Germans would be better organized and might even launch a counterattack.

Norris went farther forward to make his observations. Elements of the German 1057/91 Airlanding Division had not been able to consolidate their defense of Craquigny and were still obliged to engage with the paratroopers assembled in an orchard just east of Amfreville. Writes Norris:

Gavin, from outside the foxhole, nonchalantly showed us what he wanted hit. Bob [345th’s operations officer] then conducted a brilliant adjustment of fire on Gavin’s preferred targets. It was a textbook performance by a superb gunnery officer. Then, we began to await the arrival of all howitzers by 10:30. (The target area involved the German front line, defending against a crossing of the Merderet. Although the range from our howitzers to the target was over five miles, Bob’s calculations were so accurate that the first round landed within fifty hards of the target—a splendid payoff indeed for his countless hours of gunnery and fire-direction training. His rapid three-round adjustment gave the Krauts no warning of the devastating fire that greeted them when the assault began….

Fortunately, all twelve howitzers came into position. At 10:30 we fired. “Battalion 15 rounds as rapidly as possible,” [was the order]. We put 180 rounds of 96-lb HE shells into the most dangerous areas at the end of the causeway. It was quite a help to the assault….

The next evening 357IR would follow in the trace of 3/325, who were still engaged, defending the bridgehead.
The next evening 357IR would follow in the trace of 3/325, who were still engaged, defending the bridgehead.

After a costly action carried by 3/325 Glider and C/505 PIR, the bridgehead that would allow the passage of 357/90 was secure. (A detailed account may be found here: http://smallwarsjournal.com/print/12774)

8 June

Capture
Assembly area for 90ID (minus 359IR) on 8 June 1944, two days prior to their relief of 82ABD.

8 June: The main body of the division arrived off UTAH Beach mid-morning and began debarking from the three ships simultaneously. All troops, but only 5% of the Divisions transport vehicles made it ashore that day. The Division closed into an assembly area TURQUEVILLE-REUVILLE-AUDOUNVILLE LE HUBERT-ECOQUENEUVILLE with the CP at Loutres by midnight.

Warning orders were received from VII Coprs directing the division to attack on 10 June (D+4) through the 82nd Airborne Division on the Merderet river with two regiments (the 359th Inf. was to remain attached to the 4th Div.) and seize the high ground east of the Douve river near St. Sauver Le Vicomte.

-LTC Eames Yates

The desperate fights going on at La Fière, Timmes Orchard (vic Amfreville) and Hill 30 should be remembered. The Germans had just brought up the better part of a battalion to Le Motey (upper left) to deal with Timmes’s assorted elements. They were also in the process of bringing up a training tank battalion in an effort to retake La Fière across the famous causeway.