The Battle For Saint-Sauveur-Le-Vicomte
Taken from "Then & Now" Magazine
By June 9, 1944, three days after its assault on the Normandy coast, the US VII
Corps of Major General Lawton J. Collins had consolidated all its units the 82nd
and 101st Air borne Divisions which had dropped on D-day and the formations
which had landed at Utah Beach into a single continuous front.
Also by that date, Major General Matthew B. Ridgway's 82nd Airborne Division had
finally secured its two bridgeheads across the Merderet river west of Ste Mere
Eglise, one at Chef du Pont and one at La Fière, the latter after a sharp,
These crossings were now to become the springboard for the major corps effort to
cut westwards across the Cotentin peninsula and isolate the German forces
holding out further north in defence of Cherbourg.
The mission was given to the 90th Infantry Division of Brigadier General Jay W.
MacKelvie, which had begun landing on Utah
Beach on D-day. The initial divisional objective was the line of the Douve river
between Terre de Beauval and St Sauveur le Vicomte, some 10 miles away to the
Passing through the 82nd Airborne bridgehead, the division was to attack with
two regiments, the 357th and 359th Infantry (the third regiment was detached to
the 4th Division).
The 90th Division jumped off early in the morning of June 10, but the attack
went badly from the start. On the right, the 357th Infantry scarcely advanced
beyond the perimeter of the La Fière bridgehead, recoiling under its first
experience with heavy enemy fire.
On the left, the 358th Infantry advanced a few hundred yards from the Chef du
Pont bridgehead, but then halted before meeting serious opposition because the
regimental commander, Colonel James V. Thompson, felt that his position was
insecure as the Germans still held out in a château to the rear of his position.
On June 11, both regiments continued the attack, but progress was again
disappointingly slow, and nightfall found them still short of the objective.
The 357th was now near Les Landes and the 358th had encircled but not captured
Pont l'Abbé. Next day, June 12, the 359th Infantry, released from attachment to
the 4th Division, was inserted between the two regiments, but despite this
reinforcement, the 90th Division's movement remained as sticky as before.
By June 13, it had struggled to its initial objectives roughly on a line from
Gourbesville to Pont l'Abbé, the latter town being captured by the 358th
Infantry after aerial bombing and artillery concentration had levelled it.
The poor performance of the 90th Division in its first four days in action
caused it to be heavily criticised by higher commanders.
They admitted that in the hedgerow country, where each field constituted a
separate battlefield and unit control was at times impossible, the normal
difficulties of any division green to combat were greatly intensified, but the
general feeling was that there was a lack of aggressiveness in the 90th
On the 12th, General Collins called Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley,
commander of the US First Army, and told him the division was inadequately
trained and lacked leadership. In Collins' opinion, it was not the fault of
MacKelvie (who had only assumed command in January 1944), but of the division's
former commander, Major General Henry Terrell. Bradley soon agreed that the 90th
was 'one of the worst-trained outfits to arrive in the ETO'. On June 13,
MacKelvie was relieved (without prejudice) and replaced by Major General Eugene
M. Landrum. Two regimental commanders, Colonel Philip H. Ginder of the 357th and
Thompson of the 358th, were relieved as well.
The 90th Division was left in the line, but General Collins decided to
completely reorganise his corps attack plan. The main attack west was to be
taken over by the veteran 82nd Airborne and 9th Infantry Divisions. Ridgway's
82nd was assigned the southern half of the 90th Division's zone and ordered to
advance south-westward along the road from Pont l'Abbé to St Sauveur le Vicomte;
Major General Manton S. Eddy's 9th Division, which had begun to debark on Utah
Beach on June 10, was to take over the northern half and attack toward Ste
Colombe, three miles upstream from St Sauveur.
After that, the 9th was to cross the Douve and cut the peninsula. Landrum's 90th
Division, when passed through by the 82nd and 9th, would wheel north and advance
towards Le Ham and Terre de Beauval, thus covering the northern flank of the
The new offensive jumped off on the morning of June 14. In the 82nd Airborne
sector, the initial attack was led by the 90th Division's 358th Infantry. It had
been agreed that this regiment should seize the road junction 1,000 yards to the
west and that the 82nd was to carry the attack from there.
Despite close range mortar fire and 88 mm fire from across the Douve river, the
358th gained the objective and, at noon, the 82nd's 507th Parachute Infantry
(temporarily commanded by the regimental executive, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur
Maloney) and the 325th Glider Infantry (also under temporary command of its
executive, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert G. Sitler) began passing through, moving
abreast in columns of battalions, left and right of the highway respectively.
They had plenty of artillery support, the 82nd's three own artillery battalions
having been reinforced by the 188th Field Artillery Battalion on June 13.
However, the artillery had difficulty keeping up with the 507th's advance, and
mishap occurred when a heavy barrage of friendly fire fell on its leading 2nd
Battalion. An evening counter attack forced back the 507th's right a few hundred
yards, but at the end of the day the two regiments had pushed forward about a
mile and had reached the road running south from Bonneville. Meanwhile, on the
right, the 9th Division s 60th Infantry was committed in the gap opened by the
90th Division pivoting to the and right of the highway respectively. Advancing
slowly under enemy mortar and artillery fire, by dark the regiment had reached
the Valognes Pont l'Abbé highway. However, further north, the virtual paralysis
of the 90th Division continued. Two full days of fighting were required for the
357th to take Gourbesville, while the 359th inched forward towards Orglandes and
the 358th, committed on the 15th on the division right flank, achieved little
Whatever else may explain the 90th Division's continued poor performance, there
is no doubt that German opposition on the north and north-west was substantially
stronger than on the west. While Landrum faced elements of Generalleutnant
Rudolf Stegmann's 77. Infanterie Division, recently arrived from Brittany,
opposition to the drive west was still only coming from the 91. Luftlande
Division, commanded by Oberst Eugen Koenig (Generalmajor Wilhelm Fal]ey had been
killed by US paratroops on D-day) and by now beaten down to a battle weary
Kampfgruppe. A Kampfgruppe of the 265. Infanterie-Division (Generalleutnant
Walther Duvert) was being brought up from Brittany, but the bulk of this new
committed in the Pretot area on the other side of the Douve further south.
General der Artillerie Wilhelm Fahrmbacher, who replaced General der Artillerie
Erich Marcks as commander of the LXXXIV. Armeekorps after the latter's death in
an air attack on June 12, reported to 7. Armee on the 14th that a large-scale
American attack westward could not be held because of the fragmentation and
mixing of units, the fatigue of the troops and the lack of sufficient
ammunition. His estimation was correct.
On June 15, the 82nd Airborne accelerated its advance. Attacking astride the
highway to St Sauveur, Ridgway's division encountered only moderate resistance
throughout the day, even with the enemy using some tanks to oppose the advance.
The 325th Glider Infantry made the largest gains and reached Rauville, only
1,000 yards from St Sauveur. The 507th again suffered from an unfortunate
barrage of friendly fire. In mid afternoon, the regiment was relieved by the
505th Parachute Infantry (Colonel William E. Ekman), the change slowing the
advance on the right. Never the less, the 505th, attacking though the 507th with
two battalions astride the road, made up for much of the time lost. The 2nd
Battalion, led by Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort (who had broken an
ankle in the D-day jump but had continued to lead his battalion on crutches) hit
an enemy strong point near the hamlet of La Rosiers, but overcame this with the
help of two Sherman tanks of Company A of the 746th Tank Battalion. By
nightfall, the 505th had advanced three miles and reached a line south of
Reigneville, two miles from St Sauveur. That day, the 82nd identified elements
of two regiments of the 265. Division, Infanterie Regiment 894 and Infanterie
Regiment 895, among the units opposing it.
In the 9th Division sector, the increasing gap with the 90th Division permitted
General Eddy to commit a second regiment, the 47th Infantry, on his right wing.
Advancing rapidly, by dark the 47th had reached its objective, the high ground
west of Orglandes.