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PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2006 7:29 pm 
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Taken from my website; http://www.17thss.co.uk
Unit History

The order to create the 17th SS Division was given in the middle of 1943 although it was not formally activated until 1944 when training and forming was complete. This activation was marked by a ceremony on the 10th April at the town hall in Thouars, France, where the division had been carrying out its training. The ceremony was attended by no less than Reichfuhrer SS Himmler and "Sepp" Dietrich. The cufftitle, "Gotz von Berlichingen" was bestowed upon the division.


D-Day Normandy, Ardennes and Retreat

Under its first commanding officer, SS - Brigadenfuhrer Werner Ostendorff, the division formed its order of battle. This comprised two regiments of panzer grenadiers. The 37th and 38th each composed of three motorised battalions, artillery regiment and the usual attached services. The divisional strength as of 1st June 1944 was 17,321 men although, given the state of Germany at this stage of the war it was deficient in weapons and equipment. An example given is at least two of the grenadiers battalions were mounted on bicycles!






On D-Day the division was released from the high command reserve (OKW) and assigned to Army Group B and started to make its way to the beach head. The division Aufklarungs - Bataillon ( reconnaissance battalion) reach the area around Tessy during the 8th June, followed slowly by the rest of the division caused by the lack of mobility and constant harassment by allied air superiority. The Aufklarungs - Bataillon took up positions in a sector previously held by the Wehrmacht 352nd Division in the Trevieres-Littry area where, on the 10th June, the Aufklarungs - Bataillon finally clashed with units of the British 7th Armoured Division.

The main force of the division was still arriving and due to continued fuel shortages the bulk was still stranded in and around Vers. Fuel supplies eventually got through and some units became mobile, advancing to a point North of Periers.

This area was being held by the 6th Fallschirmjager Regiment under the experienced and bold Major Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte. Ostendorff went forward to meet up with von der Heydte in the town of Carentan where a fierce battle was raging. Under continued allied superiority FJR 6 was forced to withdraw and become subordinate to the command of "GvB". There was a well documented clash between von der Heydte and commanding officers of "GvB". Heydte had a low opinion of the "GvB" and for their part, several senior "GvB" officers attempted to have Heydte court-martialled for giving up Carentan.

By the 12th June, Carentan fell to the US 101st and 82nd Airborne and GvB moved into defensive positions in the South. Despite a counterattack in the Coutances area, it is clear that "GvB" and the German forces in general could not sustain domination of the battle. Shortage of ammunition for the heavy support weapons limited the effectiveness of any attacks by the grenadiers, a fact further compounded by Luftwaffe support failing to materialise. That said, "GvB" opened their first attack against both the US 101st and 82nd A/B Divisions and the 2nd Armoured Division. Fighting continued for a few weeks with few advances and culminated in the "GvB" going back into defensive positions and Ostendorff being badly wounded on 16th June. He was replaced by SS Standartenfuhrer Otto Baum. On 18th June, "GvB" was relieved from the Periers-Neumesnil sector by the Wehrmacht 353rd Division. Escaping the decimation of the other German divisions in the Falaise pocket, "GvB" was sent initially to Paris and then Merzig in the Saarland for rest and refit.



"GvB" spent the remainder of 1944 defending Metz. They defended it with resolve and held up the US advance through France. However, repeated US attacks over two months considerably weakened "GvB" and lack of replacements again forced "GvB" to be withdrawn in November to Saarbruecken.

1945 saw "GvB" holding the line from Aachen, Bettweder, Urbach and Nussweder. The Ardennes offensive, or Unternehmen Nordwind, began with "GvB" playing a major role in attacking the US forces. However, the seemingly limitless supplies of US men and material prevailed and Nordwind failed.

As the allies continued their advance, "GvB" suffered defeat after defeat, withdrawal after withdrawal, finally finding itself defending Nuremburg on 20 April, the Fuhrer's birthday. The last days of April saw "GvB" fighting around Munich after which it headed South. By this time, the writing was on the wall and "GvB" finally surrendered to the US forces on 7 May, 1945 and was sent into captivity.

"GvB" had existed for 17 months, 11 months of which involved heavy fighting. The Division had been repeatedly decimated, reformed and sent back into action. That said, it fought hard with distinction, was not tarnished with any involvement in war crimes and fought exclusively on the Western Front.




Personalities/Commanders

It is not my intention to chonologically list all of “GvB’s” commanders as this is not very interesting for the reader and similarly is of little merit unless the commander can be assigned some special noteworthy contribution to the units history. However, of special note are the following.


Gruppenfurhrer Werner Ostendorff held command of the “GvB” at two separate times. He was it’s first Divisional commander from activation in 1943, initially relinquishing this command when he was badly wounded on the 16th June 1944 in and around the Periers-Neumesnil sector where “GvB” was defending debilitating attacks from the US 82nd, 101st A/B and 2nd Armoured Divisions. Ostendorff went on to command the “GvB” on another occasion releiving Standartenfuhrer Gustav Mertsch on the 21st October 1944 and finally leaving “GvB” on the 15th November 1944.


Standartenfuhrer Otto Binge also had the distinction of having Divisional command of the “GvB” on two occasions, June 17th to the 20th 1944 and again between the 1st and 29th August 1944. He was replaced at the end of his first command by Standartenfuhrer Otto Baum who led “GvB” between June the 20th and August 1st 1944 and who had the distinction of subordinating “GvB” to the 2nd SS “Das Reich” and immediately to take over as commander of DasReich with the now attached “GvB”





Knights Cross winners

Only four men within the Division ever won the Knights Cross or Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes whilst on active service within “GvB”. This is relatively low when compared to other W-SS formations but still credible given the relatively short time “GvB” was in existence and the narrow (western) front on which it fought. To put this in context, Divsions such as the 2nd SS “Das Reich” and the 1st SS “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler”, units which pretty much fought throughout WWII and on both fronts had 72 and 54 Knights Cross winners respectively. Total for all W-SS formations in WWII was 410. The Knights Cross was a new grade of Iron Cross and was introduced in 1939. It was awarded for a variety of reasons, from skilled and continuous leadership to a single act of extreme gallantry or bravery and was available to any man regardless of rank. As the war progressed further distinctions or grades were created to bestowe further glory on existing holders, namely Oak Leaves, Oak leaves with Swords and ultimately Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds!




Sturmbanfuhrer Kurt Wahl


Kurt Wahl won his Knights Cross aged 30. In late August 1944 he was leading a battle group of the 38th Regiment whilst the Division was concerntrated near Mortain and was involved in a counterattack (Op LUTTICH) against the US 30th Infantry Division.


Obersturmfuhrer Ortwin Kuske


Ortwin Kuske was leading 3 Kompanie,17 Aufklarungs Abteilung (recon) with an attached Wehrmacht unit when it stopped a US armoured advance dead in it’s tracks whilst “GvB” was involved in defending Metz. Metz subsequently fell to the US forces on the 22nd of November 1944. Kuske was awarded his Knights Cross for “….Outsanding bravery and leadership”. Testimony to the savagery of this particular event was that 8O% of Kuskes battlegroup was killed or wounded.


Obersturmfuhrer Fred Papas


As with all recon outfits the world over, they are always in the vanguard of any action and not suprisingly another officer from the 17 Aufklarungs Abteilung, Fred Papas won his award when as an Untersturmfuhrer, he was involved in that units action during the time German forces were being pushed back as far as the Maderbach river.


Oberscharfuhrer Heinrich Gottke


The only “enlisted man” within the Division to win the Knights Cross, Gottke was a member of 3 Batterie, 17 Flak Abteilung which was under concerntrated US armoured attack. Using a Flak gun in an anti-tank role the twice wounded Gottke remained at his gun knocking out several US tanks and more or less held off the attack on his own as his comrades lie dead and dying around him. Eventually reinforcements arrived and he was relieved. He was awarded his Knights Cross on the 17th December 1944



Finally, and of particular note is one of “GvB’s” most well known commanders, Oberfuhrer Fritz Klingenberg, holder of the Knight Cross, an award he won on the 14thMay 1941 when as a Hauptsturmfuhrer he led a small party of men from the motorcycle battalion he was commanding from 2nd SS “Das Reich” and entered Belgrade and by sheer dash and bluff forced the civilian population to capitulate without a fight. This he did by informing them he would call in an air strike if they didn’t immediately surrender. The bluff being that he didn’t have a radio to call in such a strike and anyway was so far ahead of his Division to rely on any other concerntarted support. He led the “GvB” from January 10th until March 22nd 1945 at which time this dashing and brilliant officer was killed. His body was never found.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 02, 2006 10:03 am 
I see that you are using the 'copy and paste' classic. Ever asked about copyright?

Speaking of the 17. SS-Panzergrenadier Division 'Goetz von Berlichingen', there aren't many books on it, other than a photo history in English, French and German.

K


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 02, 2006 11:20 am 
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I'd get your facts right first dear fellow. That site is mine and I'm the author of the text!!!!


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 02, 2006 11:25 am 
Sorry mate, didn't notice.

Yours, without rancour,

K


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 02, 2006 11:28 am 
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That's quite okay. I've let the site go now as I have more to do with my new group but I still am very interested in the 17th. There are about three books out on the 17th. As you say, mostly photographic. A much underrated division with a sad history.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 02, 2006 11:50 am 
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grenadier heeder wrote:
I'd get your facts right first dear fellow. That site is mine and I'm the author of the text!!!!

ADAM!!!!! :shock:
I've never heard you shout! Now I've SEEN you shout!!!! You never cease to amaze me.... :lol:

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2007 9:27 pm 
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I know its a while since it was posted but some very good info there Grenadier Heeder, a unit i'm interested in, shame no one *to my knowledge* potrays them.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2007 9:32 pm 
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There are some good books out now on this division. Much maligned in my opinion. One of the few unknown divisions...possibly because it had no real blood on it's hands and fought exclusively in the West.

Thanks for your comments Jack.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2007 9:33 pm 
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grenadier heeder wrote:
There are some good books out now on this division. Much maligned in my opinion. One of the few unknown divisions...possibly because it had no real blood on it's hands and fought exclusively in the West.

Thanks for your comments Jack.


No probs,

Do you have the names of any good books about the GvB?

Also i've only seen about 2 pics supposedly of the GvB the 2 officers talking with a Falshie and the one were they're all lined up and look as if they have dot tunics under plane tree smocks?

Jack

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2007 1:02 am 
I hear that volume 2 of the French/German/English unit history by Heimdal is out.

K


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2007 10:27 am 
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Here you go Jack;


http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gotz-Von-Berlic ... 777&sr=1-1

and

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gotz-Von-Berlic ... 777&sr=1-2


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2007 11:39 am 
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Thanks for that. :D

Jack

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 27, 2009 7:29 pm 
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www.quikmaneuvers.com has an excellent book on the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division.

Researcher


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 24, 2010 12:16 am 
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My unit does the 17th SS. I have been unable to locate much in the way of records for the unit IE weapons used, uniforms issued and camo worn. Any one have any of that kind of documentation that I can devour?


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 24, 2010 10:01 pm 
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interesting read-ive known about this through researching the 101st and 82nd A/B actions for a number of years.
Posted for info with no agenda- and so you can respond if asked questions
War is nasty and men do nasty things but..........know your history
regards
Dave g
Shortly after 2:00 am on D-Day, twelve planeloads of paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion 507th PIR were scattered throughout the marshes south of Carentan. They were supposed to have been dropped eighteen miles to the northwest at drop zone “T” near Amfreville, but instead they ended-up in the vicinity of the village of Graignes. Theirs was the worst misdrop of any airborne unit on June 6, 1944. After sunrise, several small groups of these men slogged their way out of the marsh, gravitating toward the small agrarian community whose XIIth century Roman Catholic church was silhouetted against the rising sun. Because the troopers were deep behind enemy lines and far from their drop zone, the decision was made to remain where they had landed and defend Graignes. The episode that would unfold in this obscure little village over the course of the next five days stands as one of the most dramatic and tragic of the entire Normandy campaign.

By 10:00 am on D-Day, twenty-five paratroopers under the command of 507th Capt.Leroy D. Brummitt had gathered in the village. Considering what they had been through, the small group of troopers was surprisingly well armed. In addition to their personal weapons, the men had five M1919A4 .30-cal. machine guns and two 81 mm mortars. As a precaution, Capt. Brummitt put out perimeter security to serve as an early warning in the event that the enemy approached the village. Two hours later, more 3rd Battalion/507th men arrived led by Major Charles D. Johnston. After discussing the situation with Capt. Brummitt, Major Johnston took control of the 507th men assembled in the village. He felt that, moving the force toward the American airborne units fighting to the north was an impractical idea because the 82nd and 101st Division drop zones were just too far away. He therefore decided that the best course of action would be to keep the force in Graignes. Capt. Brummitt disagreed and argued that the force should attempt to reach the regiment’s objective area to the north. Major Johnston felt that the troopers should stay put and organize a defensive perimeter and await a link-up with ground forces coming across the landing beaches. As the ranking officer present, Johnston’s decision was final: Graignes would be defended.

As the Americans went to work preparing defensive positions, the village became a hive of activity. Soldiers started digging in around the town’s perimeter, cutting fields of fire, installing communications and otherwise making ready to receive a counterattack. The mortar platoon dug in around the cemetery and sent a detachment to occupy the church belfry as an observation post. From that vantage point, the observer enjoyed an unobstructed view of the network of roads and trails leading to the village from the west and southwest. The main road leading uphill to the church was covered also by riflemen located strategically along its flanks as well as a large number of anti-tank mines. In short, all routes into Graignes were covered by rifles, machine guns, mines and mortars. While these defenses were being prepared, Major Johnston established his Command Post at the boys’ school. Graignes had become the Alamo of Normandy.

Throughout this digging-in process, troopers continued to arrive in Graignes. At approximately 5:30 pm on D-Day, a large group of Headquarters Company personnel entered the village with 1st Lt. Elmer F. Farnham, 1st Lt. Lowell C. Maxwell and twenty-four-year-old 1st Lt. Frank Naughton. Naughton had joined the U.S. Army in August 1941 and was among the first officers to join the 507th when it was born in July 1942. Normandy was his twenty-sixth parachute jump and Graignes was to be the first combat he would experience in three wars. Right behind Lt. Naughton’s group was a group of troopers from B Company/501st PIR of the 101st Airborne Div. being led by Capt. Loyal K. Bogart. Bogart had been wounded twice during the jump and when he reported in at Graignes, he insisted that he was still capable of helping and asked for something to do. Maj. Johnston responded by placing him in charge of the central switchboard at the command post and the remaining B Company/501st men were given a sector on the line. That night, more men entered the village, and by the end of the following day (D+1), the group had grown in size to 182 (12 officers and 170 enlisted).

On the morning of June 6, M. Alphonse Voydie awoke to find American paratroopers in the field behind his house. When he was informed that more paratroopers had assembled in Graignes at the church, he quickly rushed to the scene. As the village’s mayor, he felt that it was his responsibility to establish contact with the Americans. By the time that Voydie got to the church on D-Day, Maj. Johnston had already begun the process of preparing defenses around the village. Johnston and Voydie met and discussed the situation with Sgt. Benton J. Broussard, a francophone Cajun from Acadia Parish, Louisiana, serving as the translator. (Broussard is often mistakenly referred to as "French-Canadian". See National Archives and Record Administration http://www.wwiimemorial.com/registry/wa ... ID=1053014 ) At first, Maj. Johnston requested information about the general layout of the area as well as German troop movements. Without hesitating, Voydie and several other villagers told him everything they could. Because his men were going to need the ammunition and heavy weapons they contained, Johnston also asked about having use of a boat to retrieve the equipment bundles that had landed in the marshes around the village. Finally, Johnston asked about the food situation. Since the misdropped troopers would almost certainly not be re-supplied any time soon, Johnston was genuinely concerned about how he was going to feed everyone. Voydie wanted to help the paratroopers, but he realized that coming up with enough to feed 182 hungry men several times a day was not something that he could manage alone. He recognized that such an effort, as well as the effort to recover the equipment bundles, would require the cooperation and assistance of the entire Graignes community.

For that reason, Voydie called a town meeting for the next day, June 7. During that meeting, which was held in the XIIth century church, Voydie appealed to the citizens of Graignes to place all the resources of the village at the disposal of the Americans. His impassioned plea was successful because at the meeting’s conclusion, there was a unanimous decision to help the paratroopers. This decision was not entered into lightly though, as it carried grave implications. They all knew that if the Germans caught them assisting the Americans, the punishment would be swift and harsh. With a sober appreciation for the consequences, the people of Graignes elected to help the American paratroopers in their midst. After the meeting, Voydie mobilized the women of the village in an effort to procure, prepare and distribute food for the Americans. Since the paratroopers would soon exhaust the supply of light rations they had carried with them to Normandy, something had to be done quickly. The proprietor of the village café-grocery, 50-year-old Madame Germaine Boursier, was therefore recruited to organize an effort to provide meals to the paratroopers. Her assistance to the Americans actually began during the pre-dawn hours of June 6 when several paratroopers landed in the marsh near her home. She took the cold, drenched men into her home and offered them food from her café. From that point forward, Madame Boursier set the standard for aiding her liberators. Under her direction, the women of Graignes began cooking on a round the clock basis so they could serve two meals each day. Using her café as the base of operations, Madame Boursier even supervised and coordinated the transportation of meals out to the soldiers occupying the many dispersed observation positions guarding the approaches to the village. “Madame Boursier was our Mess Sergeant,” Frank Naughton remembered.

Mayor Voydie also had to deal with the issue of the equipment bundles in the marshes around the village. The paratroopers could not conduct a thorough search of these inundated areas without exposing themselves to enemy observation and possibly enemy fire. The civilians however, could move around in the marsh without attracting German suspicions. So teams of men, women and even children were soon hauling wagonloads of valuable salvaged equipment back to the Graignes perimeter. They recovered much-needed machine guns and mortars – weapons that would make the positions around the village far more defensible. They also recovered large quantities of ammunition that they thereafter delivered into the hands of the American defenders. According to 1st Lt. “Pip” Reed, “…we certainly had more ammunition than we thought we could ever use.”

In the afternoon on Saturday, June 10, a mechanized patrol approached a defensive position that was manned by some of 1st Lt. Murn’s B Company/501st men. They let the patrol get close, then opened fire killing four of the enemy. That night, outposts reported hearing a great deal of activity in the same vicinity and contact was made with the Germans several times. In one of those firefights, the paratroopers ambushed a convoy, killing one enemy soldier. When the troopers searched the dead German’s pockets, they discovered some documents that revealed him to be assigned to a reconnaissance battalion of an armored division – an ominous sign of what the Americans were up against. Knowing that such a German force was out there in the hedgerows to the west of Graignes sent a wave of nervousness through the Americans. As a consequence, that night was spent on a full alert with officers conducting almost constant inspections of the perimeter. Prior to that night, the paratroopers at Graignes had been confident that American units to the north would get through to them before the enemy could launch any kind of serious attack against their perimeter. However, the crescendo of enemy activity around the village throughout the 8th, 9th and 10th seemed to indicate that they could not expect relief to get there in time. To the American paratroopers and the French civilians in Graignes, it appeared that the moment of truth was drawing near.

There was no sign of the enemy and all was quiet the next morning (June 11) - the first Sunday since the invasion began. That being the case, Major Johnston gave permission for some of the men to attend Mass. They arrived just as the parish priest, Father Albert Leblastier, began the liturgy right on time at 10:00. At about the same time, Captain Brummitt heard firing south of the village, rushed to the scene and quickly determined that a large German force was approaching Graignes from that direction. He reinforced the southern flank and prepared to receive the weight of a direct attack. He would not have to wait long. Meanwhile back in the church, the firing rudely interrupted Father Leblastier, who was ten minutes into Mass. At first he continued, but then half way through the service, a woman burst into the church yelling, “The Germans are coming! Save yourselves!" A German patrol had indeed managed to penetrate to within two hundred meters of the church, causing a panic among the assembled parishioners and soldiers. Marthe remembered that, “Everybody started to run away but they started shooting, so we had to stay inside the church.” During the gun battle, all of the villagers assembled for Mass had to huddle inside the nave of the church just to stay out of the way of the flying bullets.

The assault, which lasted only ten minutes, had been an uncoordinated, piecemeal effort during which the paratroopers inflicted heavy casualties on the attacking force. All of the work that the paratroopers put into preparing fields of fire to cover avenues of approach had paid off, and the Germans had sustained staggering casualties. From the belfry of the church, trucks could be seen picking up dead German soldiers. As soon as the fight was over, Major Johnston ordered all available personnel to man the defensive line around the village. He correctly recognized that the morning attack had only been a probing action and that another assault would soon follow.

At about 2:00 pm, the Germans commenced a punishing mortar bombardment of Graignes. This preparatory fire was swiftly followed by a second infantry assault against the flanks of the defensive line around the village. This time the attackers moved so swiftly that the perimeter was almost breached at one point. However, Capt. Brummitt quickly shifted forces to meet the threat, and the line held. Once again, the paratroopers’ supporting fires were decisive in holding off defeat as mortar fire inflicted heavy losses and scores of enemy infantry were caught in the crossfire of the multiple machine guns defending the village center. During this second attack though, the paratroopers and the citizens of Graignes began to suffer their first casualties. The church sanctuary was then transformed into an aid station as the wounded were rushed there to receive medical attention from Capt. Sophian. Father Leblastier and Father Louis Lebarbanchon, a Franciscan priest temporarily assigned to Graignes, provided comfort to the wounded as well as several villagers. Alongside the two priests, the rectory’s two housekeepers, eighty-year-old Eugenie DuJardin and Madeleine Pezeril, also did what they could for the wounded.

An uneasy quiet fell over Graignes following the second attack. During this lull, Major Johnston pulled his outposts back to the defensive line in the village and assessed his situation. He found that, after the morning’s two major assaults, ammunition was beginning to run low. The remaining small arms ammunition and mortar rounds were then redistributed among the defenders to provide each position with an even supply. Then, an unnerving sound was heard rising from the maze of hedgerows surrounding Graignes. What was clearly the sound of heavy vehicular movement announced that the Germans were bringing in reinforcements. Since the observed evidence indicated that Graignes was about to be the target of a major attack, Major Johnston sent all of the civilians away. After almost nine hours of confinement in the church during the day’s fighting, Marthe and Odette were both “ready to leave.” Marthe remembered that, “At 7 o’clock pm Major Johnston told us that we should go home because they did not have enough ammunition for the night and the night was coming.” According to Odette, “He told us that we had to try to get out if we could.” Marthe and Odette then slipped out of the village and returned safely to Le Port St. Pierre.

In Graignes, the signs were getting more and more ominous with each passing hour. Through his binoculars, 1st Lt. “Pip” Reed could see two German 88mm guns being set-up on a farm located just a few kilometers away on the heights of nearby Thieuville. At about 7:00 pm, the 88s opened fire on Graignes and incoming rounds quickly swept across the boys’ school and the town square. As shells landed all around the church, “Pip” Reed looked up at the belfry just in time to see it take a direct hit. At the moment of impact, Lt. Naughton was on the field phone with Lt. Farnham in the belfry and the line just went dead. The enemy shell ripped through the observation post, killing Farnham and his assistant observer. But Farnham was not the only officer to lose his life to the 88s. When the bombardment began, Maj. Johnston was at the bedside of Lt. Maxwell, who had become violently ill since arriving in Normandy. While the two men were talking, an 88 mm round tore into the command post and exploded, killing both men instantly.

The artillery barrage proved to be the beginning of the final assault against the Americans at Graignes. After a thorough “softening up” of the target by the mortars and the 88s, German infantry moved in for the coup de grace. It was immediately obvious that this assault force was at least twice as large as the assault force from the afternoon battle. With the observation post in the belfry destroyed, it was no longer possible for the troopers to employ their mortars against the approaching enemy with any degree of effective accuracy. The mortar crewmen then cranked the elevation of their tubes to the maximum and made a last desperate attempt to stop the German infantrymen that were already closing ranks with the defensive perimeter in the village itself. As darkness settled over Graignes, the Germans continued their relentless drive and, before long, it was clear that the paratroopers would not be able to hold on much longer.

By the time the Germans made the final thrust into Graignes that night, the defenders had been reduced to a few isolated pockets of resistance spread out around the village. In many cases, men were beginning to run out of ammunition. As that happened, the enemy was quick to exploit the situation by overrunning the outer perimeter and moving into the streets of the center of the village. Those points of the line that were not overrun were cut off from communication with the command post and the aid station. With the Germans swarming over the center of the village, the American tactical situation in Graignes fell apart at the seams once and for all. The defenders had done everything in their power to hold out, but they were simply too disadvantaged by the overwhelming numerical superiority of the enemy. With Major Johnston dead, command of the force at Graignes devolved to Capt. Brummitt – who ordered the men to pair off and try to make it to either Carentan or Ste.-Mère-Église. With that, paratroopers began slipping away from the village and into the night.

After the Americans evacuated and the Germans captured the village, something terrible happened. Elements of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division had conducted the final assault on Graignes. When the 17th attacked, it was with a regimental sized force of approximately 2,000. The odds were literally ten to one in the Germans’ favor. Despite those odds though, the 182 paratroopers defending Graignes inflicted an estimated five hundred killed and seven hundred wounded on the Germans during the course of the fighting on the 10th and 11th. The stubborn and determined American defense that gave the 17th such high losses brought on a vicious and brutal reprisal.

At the end of the June 11th battle, the 17th SS stormed the church and found Capt. Sophian’s aid station. They promptly forced the Captain and all of the wounded outside where they were made to line-up against a wall. The men were then divided into two groups and marched away from the church. One group (nine troopers) was marched off to the south and the other group (five troopers) was marched down to the edge of a shallow pond behind Madame Boursier’s café. At the edge of the pond, the SS bayoneted the wounded men and threw them into the water one on top of the other. The other group of 507th paratroopers was forced to march four kilometers to the south to a field near the village of Le Mesnil Angot. There, the nine wounded men were forced to dig a pit. As soon as the pit was complete, the SS shot each one of them in the back of the head and dumped their bodies in the pit one on top of the other.

Sadly, the murder of the paratroopers was only the beginning of the atrocity at Graignes. While one group of the Germans led the Americans off to execution, other Germans began systematically rounding-up French civilians suspected of assisting them. At about the same time, a group of SS men proceeded to the church rectory seeking revenge. They knew that the church’s belfry had been used throughout the battle as an observation point. They knew that the accurate and devastating mortar fire that had been controlled by the observers in that belfry had killed and wounded hundreds of their comrades. Consequently, they sought to make an example out of the people at the church whose interaction with the Americans had permitted those casualties to happen. The Germans burst into the rectory, dragged Father Leblastier and Father Lebarbanchon into the courtyard and shot them both to death. The Germans then discovered Madeleine Pezeril and eighty-year-old Eugenie DuJardin. Overwhelmed with fear, the two ladies had been cowering in their quarters ever since the beginning of the final assault. The Germans shot and killed both women in their beds. Meanwhile, a total of forty-four villagers had been rounded up and were under interrogation by the Germans as suspected collaborators. They were threatened with execution if they did not turn in the names of any and all villagers who had actively assisted the Americans, but not a single one of them turned in a single name. In fact, none of them revealed the prominent role that Alphonse Voydie had played in the Graignes drama. Had the Germans known that Voydie had been the catalyst of organization that he was, they would surely have executed him too.

The villagers’ refusal to cooperate only exacerbated the Germans’ fury. Many of the detained citizens were immediately sent south to nearby Le-Haut-Vernay where they were forced to help remove the hundreds of Germans who had been killed or wounded in the day’s fighting. This lasted practically the entire night. Then the next morning (June 12) the Germans began ransacking every house in the village. During their searches, furniture was overturned and rifled through and valuables were plundered. Many of the villagers that had fled the previous night’s attack attempted to return to their homes that morning only to be turned away on the outskirts of town. Machine guns that had been set up at several strategic approaches presented an uninviting sight to the exhausted villagers.

On Tuesday the 13th, the Germans burned the village. They poured gasoline over the bodies of Father Leblastier, Father Lebarbanchon, Eugenie DuJardin and Madeleine Pezeril and then set them on fire. The ensuing blaze was allowed to burn out of control, destroying 66 homes, the boys’ school, Mme. Boursier’s café and the XIIth century church. Another 159 homes and other buildings were damaged either as a result of that fire or the fighting. Before the June 11th battle and the German retaliation that followed, the village of Graignes had consisted of just over two hundred dispersed homes and other structures. Afterward, only two houses survived unscathed.

On Monday morning (June 12), Odette Rigault ventured out from the family farm for the first time since the Germans overran Graignes. She had not gone very far when she saw a tall paratrooper coming toward her. That soldier was Lt. Frank Naughton. Like so many other 507th men, he and his men had evacuated Graignes in the closing moments of the battle and then had spent the entire night wandering through the marsh. Although she did not speak any English, Odette nevertheless attempted to warn Lt. Naughton that the Germans were everywhere. She then led him to the barn where her family had stored the ammunition on D-Day. Naughton left with a few others later in the morning. Throughout the day, 507th troopers continued to emerge from the marsh and converge on the Rigault farm. These men had been there on D-Day and returned hoping that the family would help them again. Without hesitation, the Rigaults threw their support behind the mission of protecting the 507th men. Before long, the family had a barn full of troopers – 21 in all – that had to be fed each day. Marthe and Odette assumed the responsibility and began a daily routine of surreptitiously delivering meals to the barn. For the men cooped-up in the barn, the days passed with frustrating slowness. They had to be very careful not to make any noise, so they could not move around much and they could not even speak in normal tones. The Rigaults and the Americans were hoping that a breakthrough would occur and that Allied forces from the north would move into the area around Le Port St. Pierre and Graignes. As long as such a possibility existed, there was no need for the Americans to risk venturing from their hiding place in the barn. The fact that the 101st Airborne captured Carentan on the 12th hinted that such a breakthrough might happen, so everyone waited and hoped for the best. Disappointingly, Tuesday the 13th brought no news of an advance from Carentan. When the situation remained unchanged on Wednesday the 14th as well, it began to sink in that a breakthrough might be days, if not weeks away. The Rigaults and the twenty-one paratroopers therefore reached the conclusion that the best thing to do would be for the Americans to attempt to reach Carentan. Since the area was swarming with German patrols, the only safe method of transporting the paratroopers would be at night by boat via the shallow canals that crisscrossed the marshy inundated area north of Le Port St. Pierre. M. Rigault recruited 15-year-old Joseph Folliot to take the men using a 24-foot construction barge. At 10:00 pm on June 15, Joseph and his boatload of paratroopers left on the treacherous journey up the canals to Carentan. Two hours later, Joseph pulled over to the bank and said, “We’re OK now, get off here and follow the path for about one hundred meters and you will be in American territory.” The paratroopers were indebted to Joseph and attempted to give him their invasion currency as a gesture of appreciation, but Joseph would accept nothing.

By then most of the Graignes defenders had already made it out. Lt. Naughton with a few men left the Rigault farm during the day on June 12 and merged with a larger group being led by Capt. Brummitt. They arrived in Carentan late that night. A group being led by Lt. “Pip” Reed completed the exhausting trek to Carentan on the 12th as well. Other troopers, some alone and some in pairs, continued to filter in on the 13th and 14th. The 21 men hidden by the Rigault family and taken to Carentan by Joseph Folliot on the night of the 15th/16th was the last group from Graignes to make it back to U.S. lines. Miraculously, 150 troopers out of the original 182 made it out alive.

The 507th remained in the fight in Normandy until July 15 when it returned to England. The regiment then went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge and was a part of Operation Varsity – the airborne assault across the Rhine River. In September 1945, the 507th returned to the United States and was disbanded. With the war over, the men who had survived Graignes went on to pursue careers and start families, but the village and the French civilians that helped them were not totally forgotten. Forty years after D-Day, Frank Naughton returned to Graignes and was reunited with Marthe and Odette. That reunion was especially meaningful because the sisters had never known the fate of any of the paratroopers they had gone to such lengths to help. It was only in 1984 that they learned they had saved the life of every man that had been hidden in their barn. Naughton returned from that trip determined to see to it that the people of Graignes received some sort of official recognition from the U.S. government for what they had done. During the two years that followed, Naughton and “Pip” Reed composed a report recommending several citizens of Graignes for awards. This report was presented to the Secretary of the Army in February 1986 and was swiftly approved. On July 6, 1986, a ceremony was held in the ruins of the XIIth century Roman Catholic church during which eleven villagers were presented with the Award for Distinguished Civilian Service for their role in assisting the men of 3rd Battalion/507th. Six of those awards were posthumous.


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