This is sunset over the marshes of Graignes, taken from the ce
These are the remnants of the church in the Norman town of Graignes, on the site of one of the most memorable, but least well-known stories of D-Day. I will do my best to piece together what I know for you.
On D-Day, the 507th PIR of the 82 Airborne expected to parachute around the La Fiere bridges west of Ste Mere Eglise and hold them againsst an expected German counterattack.
In reality, about 200 men were dropped over 20 miles from their target, in the flooded marshlands around the towns of Graignes and Tribehou, which are south and southwest of Carentan, respectively. While pretty close from a walking distance perspective (maybe 10 miles), the towns were in the flooded zone that was created by the Germans opening the lcoks and flooding the fields in the lower Cotentin area. Moving to Carentan across the roads would have been risky because of the presence of German soldiers, and crossing the flooded area was very difficult.
In fact, many of the paratroopers who landed in the flooded zones never made it out of their harnesses and drowned. In addition, many of the equipment bundles of the soldiers ended up in the water as well.
So, about 175 to 200 men landed in the Graignes and Tribehou areas and made their way among the terrified citizens. Some of these townspeople knew that Graignes was under observation by the Germans, including several units just to the south, and they worried that if they were seen helping the Americans, that they would be killed. Despite their fear, many of the citizens helped the Americans find each other and also even helped the Americans find their sunken equipment bundles. Many of the citizens actually helped hide American soldiers from German patrols, which would have resulted in immediate execution if found.
Once organized, the Americans, numbering about 175-200 realized how badly off target their drop was. Realizing too that their position was not ideal for joining the fight near Ste Mere Eglise, they determined to hold in Graignes and wait for a relief column from Carentan -- assuming the invasion was successful.
The Americans held fast for several days when, finally, on about June 11th, the situation deteriorated rapidly. The Germans began probing the area around Graignes and their small units were decimated by accurate rifle, machine gun and mortar fire from the Americans, who were dug in around Graignes.
This small action ultimately lead to intense combat with the Germans sending at least one full regiment of SS troops against this undermanned company-sized group. Some estimates of German strength are between 2000 and as high as 5000. The Americans dealt staggering blows, repelling the Germans multiple times with machine gun and sniper fire from the church steeple and 81 mm mortar fire. The SS troops exhibited poor discipline, charging multiple times only to be cut down by the Americans.
Eventually, the Germans brought up two 88s and scored direct hits on the church, killing at least one spotter who refused to leave despite seeing the 88s. With the steeple gone, the Germans attacked in strength, pushing back many of the American paratroopers, most of whom were wounded and low on ammo and food.
Eventually, realizing they could hold out no longer, the Americans retreated towards the marshes, leaving many of their wounded in the church, where they were being tended by the priest and their own medics. In one of the most infamous and barbarian acts of Nazi cruelty, the SS, upon entering the town with members of the Gestapo, executed the civilians and the priest, and killed many of the wounded where they lay. They took other American wounded and had them dig their own grave and then executed them. The Germans killed other townspeople and then went on to destroy nearly every building around the church.
Knowing what was happening in town made the next act even more remarkable. A group of at least 20 Americans hid in a barn for about 2-3 days while German patrols went through the area. The farmowners organized a secret system of feeding the men and kept them alive and hidden at the risk of certain death. Eventually, a small group of survivors was secreted across the swamp by some of the young men from the town, where the Americans entered into the liberated town of Carentan.
Just so you know, over 300 men from the 507th were killed or wounded in the early action in Normandymetery by the church
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