THE FIGHTING FOR CARENTAN

by C. Carwood Lipton
E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment

Following the first days of successful fighting in Normandy the capture of the city of Carentan at the base of the Cotentin peninsula and the linking up of the forces from the Utah Beach jump and the landings and those from the Omaha Beach landings assumed major importance.

E Company on June 9th, D plus 3, had moved into a defensive line, part of a three-regiment front, facing Carentan from the North and occupying positions that had been prepared by the Germans. As we were on higher ground we looked down toward Carentan, something over a mile away.

The Germans had prepared the positions with their usual thoroughness with well-dug foxholes and gun emplacement. I moved into the CP of the unit in the 3rd platoon sector, where there were still blankets and other gear and even German black bread and tins of butter. In the CP I found an artillery or mortar range chart showing ranges and azimuths for the potential targets to the front and an optical range-finder, both of which I sent to Company. It is interesting that the German positions were facing Carentan, which means that they expected the invasion to come from the direction of Le Havre rather than from the peninsula.

Although the Regiment had been engaged in heavy fighting, particularly in clearing St. Come-du-Mont, E Company had not been committed following the attack on the 88's on D-Day and some skirmishing in the vicinity of Angoville-au-Plaine on D plus 1. We were also building up Company strength as more of our scattered jumpers rejoined us. I remember Buck Taylor, Guth, Talbert, Gordon, and Mellet in particular as some who joined us here.

I don't remember any officers in the 3rd platoon in Normandy. Lt. Schmitz did not make the jump, and Lt. Mathews was killed early in the fighting, so I had command of the platoon. I set up outpost positions in the fields toward Carentan and patrolled the area to our front, visiting the outposts with Talbert or Taylor each night we were there. There was no enemy activity against us, however, while we were there.

From the heavy, frequent gunfire nearer Carentan along the highway leading into the city from our right and from the area East of the city to our left front, beginning the night of the 9th, we knew that fighting to take it was underway. We maintained our positions, however, while the fighting in those areas continued over the next two days. Our part in the attack began on June 11th, D plus 5, when we were ordered to move out with the rest of the Battalion to the highway and, attacking to the right of it, to outflank Carentan from the West and South. This attack would cut the two highways leading into Carentan from those directions and a railway.

We moved out to the highway after dark and began our approach march with other units of the Regiment leading. When we were stopped one time just as we reached the bridge across the river before Carentan, while some Germans were being cleared out by our forward units and the air was filled with the sound of gunfire, I walked over to one of our men and asked him if he knew that over 120,000 rounds were fired for each man killed in combat. I had read that somewhere, and it seemed a good way to ease the tension, although it sounds asinine now.

There had been major fighting over the route we were following. The area was strewn with bodies, American and German, weapons and equipment, difficult to see clearly in the dark. We knew nothing about what to expect ahead of us, but we were not at that time receiving enemy fire.

We moved in column, well spread out, with connecting files maintaining contact between units. Suddenly I realized that we had lost contact with the column ahead of us. Our column had stopped, and the officers in front -with Lt. Col. Strayer, I think- were trying over and over to contact the column ahead of us by radio. I knew we would not be able to find our way to our objective in the dark and over the strange terrain on our own, and that we were strung out in a defenseless formation.

The radio attempts were in muffled undertones, and all our movements had been made as quietly as possible. A German MG42 opened up with several short bursts somewhere off to our left, and, expecting a possible attack, I moved over to one of our 3rd platoon machine gunners and whispered to him to set up his gun facing that direction. As I moved quietly off to organize the rest of the platoon I almost jumped out of my skin when my machine gunner full-loaded his gun. The sound of an LMG being full-loaded, two times pulling back and releasing the bolt, can be heard a half-mile away on a still night, and I saw all our attempts at being quiet and surprising the Germans gone for nothing. There was no attack against us, however.

After 10 or 15 very long minutes Battalion regained contact with the column ahead, and we moved out again.

We reached the railroad and, as I remember, stopped there for a while, beginning to set up a defense, but then moved out again to occupy the road leading into Carentan from the South. We reached it after daylight and were told that we were to prevent any German reinforcements from being brought into Carentan along it. I don't know the disposition of the rest of the Company or the Battalion, but the 3rd platoon was astride a road, which could have been a smaller connecting road instead of the main highway.

I had one bazooka in the 3rd platoon and Tipper was the bazooka-man. We were told to expect German armor, and the only place I could find to put Tipper and his bazooka was at the bend in the road down over a bank from where he would find it almost impossible to withdraw if we were overrun. As he and I looked at it I knew that he was seeing that it was a do-or-die situation, but that there was not another good position. I said, "Tipper, we're depending on you. Don't miss." He said, "I won't."

After a short time, though, less than an hour as I remember, we were again ordered to move, this time to attack and clear Carentan.

As we reached the outskirts of Carentan we started getting German rifle and machine gun fire. The houses in this area were somewhat like row houses except that there were enclosed stairways leading up to the second floors from the outside. I thought that we were getting sniper fire from one of the upstairs windows. Buck Taylor and I were working as a team at this point, checking and clearing the buildings and area as went, so I told him that I would go up the stairway to that room and that after he had given me enough time to get to the top he should throw a grenade through the upstairs window. I would then jump into the room and finish off whoever was there.

I ran up the steps and stopped outside the door. I heard the grenade thump into the room through the window and its explosion. I threw open the door and leaped into the room, my rifle thrust forward ready to fire. I couldn't see a thing! The room was filled with dust and smoke from the explosion. If there had been a sniper there and he had been able to shield himself from the grenade he would have had me silhouetted in the door, but the room was empty.

We continued to check buildings and work our way toward the town center. The rifle and machine gun fire against us seemed to decrease somewhat as we moved farther in , but mortar and artillery fire increased. Men were getting hit.

Someone yelled that Tipper was hit across the street from me. I ran over. He was lying there conscious but hurt seriously. A medic was bandaging his face and his eye was obviously gone. He had major wounds in on arm and one leg. I told him he would be well taken care of and moved on.

I came to a major road intersection, nearer the town center. There was small arms and machine gun fire coming down the street from the right, across my front. Across on the other side of that street, on the continuation of the street I was standing on, were several E Company men. There were explosions up on the walls of the buildings on the left side of the street that they were on, and they looked to me like German 5cm mortar shells fired at a low trajectory so that they were coming in somewhat horizontally rather than dropping in vertically. I was on the right side of the street I was on, against a building on my right, and I did not think that the fire could get to me, but I started yelling to the men on the other side to move farther along. I thought that in the noise and confusion they might not realize that mortar fire was being directed at them.

I the middle of my yell a mortar shell dropping vertically, a 5cm I believe, landed about 8 feet in front of me, putting shell fragments in my left cheek, my right wrist, and my right leg at the crotch. I can still hear my rifle clattering to the street as it dropped out of my right hand when it was hit.

It didn't knock me off my feet, but I dropped to the street to check how badly I was hit. I put my left hand up to my cheek and felt quite a hole. At first my big concern was my right hand as blood was pumping out in spurts. Talbert was the first one to me, and my first words were, "Put a tourniquet on that arm." The tourniquet checked the bleeding.

I felt the pain in my crotch, and when I reached down my hand came away bloody. "Talbert, I may be hit bad", I said. He slit my pants leg up with a knife, took a look, and said, "You're okay". What a relief that was. The two shell fragments there had gone into the top of my leg and had missed everything important.

Talbert threw me over his shoulder and carried me into the barn nearby that was being set up as an aid station. There I was bandaged up and given a shot of morphine, which knocked me out completely. When I woke up it was dark. They put me in an ambulance with another man whose shoulder was practically gone. He died on the way to Utah Beach, where I went into a tented field hospital for the rest of the night.

The next morning I was taken on an amphibious truck out to LST 512. Its ramp was down, and when the truck reached it, it drove right up the ramp into the LST, which took me to Southhampton, England. From there I was taken to a US Army Hospital in England for a six-week stay before rejoining E Company at Aldbourne.

I have been back to Carentan two times since the war, the first time in 1964 and the last time in 1986. The road North of the city along which we held our defensive position for three days still looks the same. It is little more than a lane, and the chateau that marked the left flank of the third platoon is still there. Carentan itself is much the same as much as I can remember of it from the first short time that I was there. I have some photographs of the lane and some 3rd platooners, taken, I think, by Guth.



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This page updated 11/22/98