Graignes


New Church    The Ruined Church and Monuments


In the early hours of June 6th, the 507th parachute infantry (82nd Airborne Division) and 501st parachute infantry (101St Airborne) were mistakenly dropped over Graignes, several kilometres away from their intended military objectives. In the hours and days to come, they would therefore be forced to engage in merciless combat for a position they had not chosen and that had no strategic value. For many of the small, scattered groups of American soldiers, the ordeal began as soon as they landed, when they had to wade through chest-high water in marshes that had been flooded by the Germans. Fortunately, local farmers went to their assistance as soon
as they recognised their uniforms, with the result that 160 or so were able to regroup in Graignes itself before the enemy could occupy it. Unable to reach other Allied units because of the massive German presence, they resolved to stand their ground dug themselves in at strategic points around the outskirts of the village. Meanwhile, the inhabitants did the best they could, gathering up parachuted equipment and munitions and providing food. Naturally, the Germans soon realised what was going on and embarked on a pattern of firing on the village each evening for around an hour.
Then, on the morning of June 11th, while many soldiers were attending Mass, came the announcement that around 1,500 Germans had massed and were about to launch an attack. Parishioners were forced to remain inside the small church until 5 PM, when they were able to escape during a lull in the fighting. The Germans sustained heavy losses, but soon received reinforcements and made a fresh assault at 6 PM, backed up by 88 mm anti tank guns that demolished many buildings. The Americans, now running short of munitions, were reduced to hand-to-hand fighting, before finally receiving the order to retreat at around 11 PM. Helped by locals who knew the marshes well, the survivors fled northwards to the Allied lines near Carentan.
The most terrible was yet to come, for in the wake of the departing Americans came the brown uniforms of the Wehrmacht and the black uniforms of the SS.  Houses were pillaged, wounded parachutists being tended in the church were executed, others who had been taken prisoner were shot, and three clergymen were murdered. Not until July 8th was Graignes finally liberated.
The parachutists may have given their lives to defend a stretch of flooded land, but their memory will long be cherished by those they came to liberate. The church was left in ruins and is now a monument to the fighting. A new church has been built in the centre of the town. Its design is possibly a even greater crime.

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