1st Battalion 22nd Infantry
The Drive on Cherbourg Part One
The First Day
During the four days prior to the jump-off for Cherbourg on 19 June the enemy opposite the 4th Division had had time to prepare defenses, especially in the Montebourg area. After the capture of Quineville on 14 June the only American activity was patrolling and reorganization. The 8th and 12th Infantry Regiments improved their positions. The 22d Infantry temporarily took over the Quineville area when the 39th Infantry was detached from the 4th Division, but in the following days the 22d Infantry was in turn relieved by the 24th Cavalry Squadron (part of the 4th Cavalry Group) and went into assembly at Fontenay-sur-Mer.
For the attack of 19 June, General Barton planned to use the 8th and 12th Infantry Regiments abreast, one on either side of Montebourg. The railway running southwest and northeast from Montebourg was designated as the line of departure, although it was still in enemy hands. The attack was to begin at 0300, without artillery, and bypass the town. Beginning at 1000, the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry, was to enter Montebourg from the west and capture it. The regiment's 2d Battalion was to remain in reserve and the 1st Battalion, in the vicinity of le Mont de Lestre, was to screen the 12th Infantry as it prepared for the attack.
Due to the prolonged delay of the 8th and 12th Regiments in pushing past Montebourg, the 3d Battalion of the 22d Infantry, which was to have occupied the town at 1000, did not move in until 1800. Repeatedly shelled for a week, Montebourg was abandoned by the Germans. About three hundred French civilians emerged from the cellars. Later in the evening the bulk of the 22d Infantry was concentrated on the right flank of the division, intent on pushing the attack again early the net day.
On the evening of 19 June, General Barton issued verbal orders for the 22d Infantry, part of which was still in reserve at Fontenay-sur-Mer, to move northward into a new assembly area on the Quineville Ridge. This would bring the regiment into position to support the 12th Infantry and fill the gap which had developed between the 12th Infantry and the 24th Cavalry Squadron. The 22d Infantry established itself on the northern slopes of the ridge, making contact with the cavalry at le Mont de Lestre and with the right rear of the 3d Battalion, 12th Infantry, 2,000 yards to the west.
Later in the evening General Barton decided to commit the 22d Infantry for the resumption of the drive on the next day. The division plan for 20 June called for an attack by all three regiments. The 8th Infantry's objective was still the Tamerville area. Valognes, which was within the regiment's zone, was to be bypassed and contained, and entered only if free of Germans. The 22d Infantry was to take over the objective originally assigned to the 12th Infantry-the ground northeast of Tamerville. The 12th Infantry was given only a limited objective in the center and its attack was intended mainly as a demonstration. It was to be pinched out as soon as the 22d Infantry came abreast and was then to support the latter with fire. The decision to commit the 22d Infantry was possibly made with the view of permitting it to clear the area west of the Sinope River. The 22d was to begin its movement at 0330 so that it might come abreast of the 12th Infantry by daylight. To facilitate this coordination, one reinforced company of the 22d Infantry was to seize the tank ditch on the small tributary of the Sinope near Vaudreville by 2400.
The 4th Division's experience on 20 June was similar to the 9th's on the preceding day. When the attacks began it was found that the enemy had broken contact and retired northward. The 22d Infantry moved up during the night, as planned, came abreast of the 12th Infantry by daybreak, and kept on going. The 12th also reached its objective without incident and, at 0830, General Barton ordered the 2d Battalion, with a company of tank destroyers, to relieve the 8th Infantry in containing Valognes. This proved unnecessary when Colonel Van Fleet reported that patrols from his 1st Battalion had found the town clear, although the streets were so filled with rubble from previous bombardment that troops could not pass through.
Unknown to the 4th Division, the German commander had decided to disengage and withdraw his entire force to Fortress Cherbourg. With the cutting of the peninsula General von Schlieben had lost physical contact with the main German forces outside the Cotentin and was now on his own. Execution of the delayed withdrawal to the Cherbourg defenses was completely in his hands. Threatened with outflanking by the rapid push of the 9th Division up the west side of the peninsula, and under heavy pressure in the Montebourg area, von Schlieben decided on 19 June to disengage. Withdrawals began during the night. The remnants of the four divisions which he commanded had been so hard-pressed and were so battle weary, by his own admission, that almost no delaying actions were fought.
Despite the absence of opposition, the 4th Division's progress during the morning was not rapid. The 8th Infantry was delayed by the necessity of investigating conditions at Valognes. The 22d Infantry moved cautiously, unwilling to believe that the enemy had withdrawn. At O915, Col. R. T. Foster, now commanding the 22d Infantry, was told that his battalions were not moving fast enough. "Rumor has it," he told his units, "that the 9th is within artillery range of Cherbourg. Guess Division Commander Barton is worried that somebody else will beat the 4th to Cherbourg."
About noon Colonel Van Fleet (8th Infantry) ordered his battalions to get on the roads and move rapidly. The 22d Infantry also took a route march formation and moved northward. In the afternoon General Collins directed General Barton to have the 8th Infantry seize Hill 178, west of Rufosses, the 12th Infantry take la Rogerie, and the 22d Infantry advance still farther to Hameau Gallis and the road junction to the north, patrolling in the direction of the strong points near Maupertus. Except for Hill 178, these objectives were reached that night, although not without opposition.
The 22d Infantry stopped short of le Theil, part of the regiment going into position south of the Saire River. There it was under direct observation and heavy fire from the high ground to the north which caused considerable casualties in the 1st Battalion.
The 8th Infantry first contacted enemy outposts southeast and east of Rufosses, meeting some resistance. The 3d Battalion was subjected to heavy artillery fire but attacked and took the town before dark, establishing a line just east of the Bois de Roudou. The 2d Battalion came under fire as it advance up the slope northwest of Rufosses. It was nearly dark when the battalion reached this point, and the men dug in along the road 600 yards east of the crossroads. Both the 8th and 22d Infantry Regiments had tanks from the 70th Tank Battalion in support. The 24th Cavalry Squadron protected the division's right flank, reconnoitering as far as Quettehou.
The 8th Infantry advanced more than six miles on 20 June, and the 22d more than eight miles. Due to the rapid progress units were often without communications with higher headquarters. General Barton, while finding it difficult to locate the command posts, nevertheless was gratified with the division's progress.
Reconnaissance during the night of 20-21 June and the following morning yielded no enemy contact. During the rapid march northward on 20 June the 8th and 22d Infantry Regiments had a few brushes with outposts and received some artillery fire. The enemy delaying action, though light, was just sufficient to prevent the two regiments from developing the main German defense line before dark. General Barton ordered attacks by all three regiments on 21 June, the principal tasks being the capture of Hill 178, west of Rufosses, which the 8th Infantry had failed to take the day before, the development of the enemy's main line of resistance somewhere beyond the Bois du Coudray, and the cutting of the St. Pierre-Eglise-Cherbourg highway west of Gonneville. These missions were assigned as objectives to the 8th, 12th, and 22d Infantry Regiments, respectively.
The 12th and 22d Infantry Regiments to the east attacked late on 21 June. The 12th's mission was to break through the enemy's outpost line and determine his main line of resistance. Like the 8th Infantry, it was confronted by a wood-the Bois du Coudray, which lies between the Saire and one of its tributaries. The mission was initially assigned to the 2d Battalion, which moved out at 1730 and contacted the enemy half an hour later. Resistance was light at first and the battalion moved easily through the wood. On the northwest edge of the wood it found the bridge blown and received mortar and small-arms fire heavy enough to halt the advance. The enemy held the rising ground west and north of the Saire. That evening the other two battalions entered the wood, but no attack was launched that day.
The 22d Infantry was ordered to advance straight north and seize Hill 158, a critical terrain point which dominated the surrounding countryside, including the heavily defended Maupertus airport to the east. The main east-west highway into Cherbourg ran across the hill, and the main purpose of the 22d's mission was to cut this highway. Possession of Hill 158 was a vital factor in the plan of isolating Cherbourg from the east; both the division and Corps commanders therefore attached great importance to the winning of this objective.
In the advance from le Theil, the 1st and 3d Battalions, supported by Company B, 70th Tank Battalion, move out abreast at 1600 behind an artillery preparation. Four hours later they were ordered to dig in on favorable ground north of Pinabel. But since the 3d Battalion began to receive fire from enemy antiaircraft guns, both battalions were ordered to keep moving. The 1st Battalion could not advance in the face of heavy artillery fire, but the 3d pushed forward 500 yards to reach the objective.
The battalions had hardly reached their new positions when large but apparently unorganized German forces began to infiltrate across their rear from defensive positions around Gonneville. For the next four days and nights the enemy interrupted communications and supply. All resupply convoys had to be escorted by tanks to get through. Even then it was touch and go. A convoy for the 1st Battalion on the morning of 22 June was hit by artillery and machine-gun fire and turned back with heavy casualties. Another convoy took a wrong turn and was ambushed in a narrow trail, losing two light tanks, three half-tracks, three 57-mm. antitank guns, and several jeeps.
The date 21 June marks the end of the first phase in the drive for Cherbourg. The 9th and 79th Divisions, after running into strong German resistance on 20 June, further developed the German positions on 21 June to determine more accurately the main enemy line. The 4th Division, encountering its first heavy opposition in the upper peninsula, established the enemy's main line of resistance, which ran generally from Hill 178 to the northwest edge of the Bois du Coudray and thence to Hill 158. The line took advantage of the commanding ground near the upper reaches of the Trotebec and Saire Rivers. Strong points were situated along the forward slopes. Pressed against this enemy line, the 4th Division, like the 9th and the 79th in their respective sectors, was now ready for the final phase of the assault on Fortress Cherbourg.
The above is taken from:
UTAH BEACH TO CHERBOURG
Department of the Army Historical Division
Available online at
US Army Center of Military History
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