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Posted on May 10, 2006 in Armchair Reading, Front Page Features

Walk Where They Fought: La Fière, 82d Airborne Division, D-Day 1944

By Martin K. A. Morgan

The western side of the La Fière manor was mainly pasture, and on its eastern side were orchards and earthen mounds. Most important, a vast network of crisscrossing hedgerows dominated the manor’s eastern approaches – the area through which the 82d would have to fight. After moving only a short distance, Schwartzwalder’s group came under fire from one of the same machine guns that had stopped Dolan’s 505th paratroopers earlier that morning. At about the same time, the 508th’s regimental commander, Colonel Roy Lindquist, arrived on the scene with a group of troopers that included men from C Company/505th PIR. These units continued to converge on the objective until elements of the 505th and the 508th began to enter the manor grounds through its backyard. Sporadic shots continued briefly and then one of Dolan’s men fired an M-1A1 “bazooka” into the stoutly built stone house. Shortly thereafter, a 508th PIR sergeant darted through the front door and emptied a full magazine from his M-1A1 Thompson submachine gun up through the floorboards of the second story. What was left of the German force immediately surrendered, and the battle for the Leroux manor at La Fière was over.  

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July 1944. Marcus Heim of A Company, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82d Airborne Division receives the Distinguished Service Cross from Maj. Gen. Omar N. Bradley at La Haye-du-Puis. Image Credit: NATIONAL ARCHIVES C-47s tow Waco CG4-A gliders as they carry the 325th Glider Infantry to Normandy. Image Credit: 82ND AIRBORNE MUSEUM

Meanwhile, on the other end of the causeway, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Timmes, commanding the 2d Battalion of the 507th, was in a difficult position. He was on the correct side of the river with a group of troopers, but was unable to establish communications with his regiment or his division. Rather than moving his force over to the east bank of the Merderet, Timmes placed his men in defensive positions at an apple orchard northeast of Le Motey. He knew that his responsibility was to occupy the western end of the La Fière causeway, so he ordered Lieutenant Louis Levy to take 10 men and outpost the village of Cauquigny . When Levy’s patrol arrived there around noon , they found Cauquigny to be clear of the enemy.  

With La Fière, Cauquigny, and the roadway between them in the hands of the 82d Airborne Division, Captain Schwartzwalder led his 507th troopers across the causeway. When they reached the west bank, Schwartzwalder left Lieutenant Levy and eight men to guard Cauquigny and then moved out to locate Lieutenant Colonel Timmes. At La Fière, paratroopers of the 505th began digging in and preparing to defend the manor. Two Bazooka teams positioned themselves near the bridge, and a 57 mm anti-tank gun was positioned at the bend in the road above the manor overlooking the causeway.  

A 325th Glider Infantry Regiment medic and three other Soldiers examine a knocked-out French-made Renault light tank on the La Fière causeway. Image Credit: COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL D-DAY MUSEUM Capt. Robert D. Rae of Service Company, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment prepares for a training jump in Alliance, Nebraska, in 1943. Image Credit: COURTESY OF ALBERT "BUD" PARKER

Aware of just what was at stake at the La Fière crossing of the Merderet inundated area, the Germans had already dispatched forces of the 91st Luftland Division on the west bank to counterattack toward Cauquigny and the American bridgehead beyond. This force consisted of a rifle company and elements of the 100th Panzer Ausbildungs und Ersatz Abteilung – an armored training battalion equipped with French-made Renault and Hotchkiss light tanks. The German tanks and infantry quickly overran Lieutenant Levy’s force that was guarding Cauquigny, and then pushed onward across the causeway. The full weight of the armored counterattack fell on paratroopers of Lieutenant Dolan’s A/505th in their positions around the bridge at La Fière at approximately 5:30 p.m. In the savage combat that followed, the Americans used their M-1A1 bazookas and the lone 57 mm anti-tank gun to knock out two of the tanks. Then, concentrated fire from the paratroopers’ M-1 rifles and .30-caliber machine guns viciously tore into the German infantry exposed on the open road, decimating them. Soon the energy of the assault had been expended and the Germans withdrew, having sustained heavy casualties.  

The next morning (June 7, D+1), the Germans threw another assault at the paratroopers defending La Fière manor. This time, however, the thrust was preceded by fire from mortars and artillery brought in overnight. Like the day before, the attack advanced as far as the outermost American defensive positions before grinding to a halt. After the 57 mm anti-tank gun knocked out the lead tank, German infantrymen swarmed forward. At the foot of the bridge, the men of Dolan’s A Company/505th were exposed to the full weight of the German assault as the combat reached a ferocious level of intensity. But then the German infantry who had advanced almost to the bridge melted back toward Cauquigny in a fighting withdrawal. Although the paratroopers had survived another German onslaught, the situation at the causeway remained a stalemate.  

A 155 mm howitzer of the 345th Field Artillery Battalion adds its punch to the bombardment preceding an attack across the La Fière causeway on June 9. Image Credit: 82ND AIRBORNE MUSEUM Soldiers of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment set up a machine-gun position at the base of a Norman hedgerow. Throughout the Normandy campaign, the substantial mounds upon which the hedgerows grew served as strong defensive positions for both sides. Image Credit: 82ND AIRBORNE MUSEUM

The paratroopers at La Fière remained under constant artillery and mortar fire throughout the day of June 8 (D+2), but the Germans made no further attempts to get vehicles or infantry across the causeway. Later that day, it was decided that to break the deadlock, elements of the division would cross the inundated area just to the north of La Fière.  

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35 Comments

  1. Several years ago I accidently came upon the Fiere battlefield, as me and my brother were taking an independent personal WWII history tour of the Normandy area. Not knowing about the severity of the battle I was greatly moved being there. This article gives me much more information on the site. I live in Texas, USA and if I ever get to go back, I will make sure I get to this area again. I am 77 years old and missed the war by a few years but have always been interested in WWII. Thanks for this article.

    • I was there with my 2 sons in 2001. Met the owner and thru an interpreter and he walked me around the manor buildings. They show bullets in the walls of the buildings. There is a room under the front of the main house full of all sorts of battle items he has picked up from time to time. There is a road running left from the church on the other side of the causeway. Along this road is a memorial to a Medal of Honor recieptent. Did you see it. If not go to Google Earth and follow along and you will see it. Chas Deglopper, Medal of Honor.com

  2. In June of 2007, I had the privelege of visiting and spending several days behind Utah beach studying the troop movements of the 82nd A/B. I spent an entire day at the La Fiere bridgehead. It never dawned on me how strategicaly important that battle was. I learned more by being there than I could ever learn reading about it. When you see, hear, touch and smell the little battlefield, it all comes in perspective.Had it not been for those brave men, the war would have surely turned on a differant course. The actions and bravery of those men will live forever in our hearts and minds. Thank you for posting such a wonderfull and insightful webpage.and a veyy special thanks to the men of the 82nd airborn.

  3. In June of 2007, I had the privelege of visiting and spending several days behind Utah beach studying the troop movements of the 82nd A/B. I spent an entire day at the La Fiere bridgehead. It never dawned on me how strategicaly important that battle was. I learned more by being there than I could ever learn reading about it. When you see, hear, touch and smell the little battlefield, it all comes in perspective.Had it not been for those brave men, the war would have surely turned on a differant course. The actions and bravery of those men will live forever in our hearts and minds. Thank you for posting such a wonderfull and insightful webpage.and a veyy special thanks to the men of the 82nd airborn.

  4. I first became aware of the LaFiere history in preparation for my first visit to Normandy in 1984. At the time, I was a Captain stationed in Giebelstadt, West Germany. My Aeroscout Platoon provided direct support to the 3ID’s Cav Sqdn (3/7 Cav) which had planned an Officer Professional Development (OPD) trip for the 40th Anniversary of DDay. The Army paid for bus transportation and each of us paid our own food/board and adult beverages. It was not all fun and games though, our group leader was LTC Shinseki the Sqdn Commander (later became the Chief of Staff of the Army) who expected each person to teach a class on site. While most of his personnel were tankers and were assigned various aspects of the assault and the breakout/pursuit, us aviators were assigned classes on the airborne operations. I had read SLA Marshall’s “Night Drop” and the LaFiere fight sounded interesting with many professional teaching points. I had always been interested in DDay since my Dad landed on Omaha beach on D+3 with an Ordnance unit assigned to 1st Army. He seldom talked about it, but my Mom (who was English) always talked about knowing something was happening when all the troops started convoying out, or were confined and the massive number of Airplanes departing the night before. Anyway back to 1984, the day prior to the class the bus parked in Ste. Mere Eglise and the four of us that were presenting the class hiked out to the Manoir. Along the way we talked to a Vet that was a pathfinder on DDay. He was climbing a gate into an orchard to show a magizine reporter where he had landed. We told him we were US Officers stationed in Germany and he said it was great to see young Americans interested in military history. He asked us to tag along so we climbed over with him. He had been back several times over the years and knew exactly which tree he landed in. He told us about hearing guys dropping into the water and yelling and gunfire seemed to be in all directions. He showed us were he crawled through the hedgerow to move toward the Manoir house. The best part of this experience was the day of the class we took everyone there and parked the bus on the side road where the Iron Mike is today (it wasn’t there in 84). Using charts, diagrams and map boards we presented a pretty thorough review of the battle and were able to point out many lessons learned focused on the principles of war. I read specific passages from various resource books and pointed out each location as we walked the area. After completing our part, I and another Captain were standing behind the group on the right side of the road facing the Merderet while one of the Lieutenants briefed his part. We spotted an elderly man at the house with several escort personnel that turned out to be from the Embassy and a French reporter. He was wearing an 82nd Association baseball hat, so we approached him to say Hi and he introduced himself as COL John Marr retired. I said, Sir are you the Lt Marr mentioned in SLA Marshall’s book and he said Yes!! We explained who we were (since we were in civies) and asked if he would tell us a little about his experience. From that point our class went out the window while we were all treated to a step by step (literally following his DDay footsteps) account of the taking of the Manoir, actions at the bridge, his excursion to contact Timmes and the crossing of the causeway. Our class went well over the time allotted but nobody minded. Since then I have been back twice and took my Dad in 2000 and 2004. I would highly recommend that any American visiting the area stop and see LaFiere, read-up on it first. I have been to Yorktown and Gettysburg, and this location will haunt you just the same. MAJ (Ret) D.E. Laack

  5. Thank God for the Late Syracuse Coach
    Captain Floyd “Ben ” Swartzwalder

  6. My father served in the 82nd airborne 505 company B Lt Weinberg’s platoon. He would occasionally discuss the war including D-day, the parachute drop, and the action in Ste Mere Eglise.

    His only comment about La Fiere was when he moved out to the position at the bridge ; he stated, “and then it began”.

    It was too painful for him to remember. He had 4 combat jumps. In addition to D-Day, he fought in Sicily, Italy, Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, across the Siegfried line into Germany. He was one of the few of the original men in his company to survive the war.

    I have read a number of descriptions of the battle at La Fiere bridge and it must have been terrible for the paratroopers. Low on ammo and supplies, facing large numbers of well equipped German troops supported by armor. My dad had a photo of the his company boarding a boat after their 30 some days of action in Normandy , and his company had about 2 dozen survivors.

    • My father too served in the 82nd Airborne Co B, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment 1943-46. He was severely wounded 1/3/1945 in the Bulge at Reharmont, Belgium. Private Thomas L Glass, now 89 years old and living in Oklahoma City. If you have photos of that unit, especially in Dec 1944 to Jan 1945, please send, we’d appreciate it.

      • I have collected some photos, but most of them have been lost. Please contact me and I will share what I have.

  7. My uncle Dale C. Hudson a 82nd Airborne 505 PIR Company F and Pasthfinder on Plane #10 survived D-Day, but was KIA on June 16, 1944. My father Lowell E. Hudson was drafted about 4 months later and served in the Army in Italy. His brother, Carl F. Hudson was in the Naval Air Corps and trained in the U.S. and before being deployed out of U.S., the WW II was over. Carl however, 1.5 yrs. after Dale’s death was in an air crash which took his life and was part of the USNR at that time. His sister Doris Hudson was a WAVE.

    I found a letter that James L. Bowdoin wrote to Dale’s parents telling them of his sorrow of Dale’s death. I don’t know James Bowdoin, but it was comforting to know that Dale had at least one good friend while he was in the Army.

    • Juliane thank you for sharing you story. I was doing a search on my Dad James L Bowdoin and came across the comment you had made. My dad had offten talked about his friend Dale. He also named his first son Dale. He had told my brother were his name came from and the history. Thank you Darryl Bowdoin

  8. What is written on the book at the Iron Mike statue in Normandy, I was very touched by the saying but can not remember it.Thank You

  9. The book near Iron Mike states (in French and in English):

    To pass on the memory
    To remind that today
    we live in peace,
    freedom, and dignity
    Because others
    gave their life for us

    A wonderful memorial, highlight of my visit to Normandy

  10. In June 2009 I was privileged to be taken to La Fiere by my Norman aviation researcher friends. I have been to Normandy many times, but this was my first visit there. I was awe-struck to think that I was standing on that very earth where our boys gave so much. As I walked that small bridge over the Menderet, I pictured those German tanks clanking along, heading toward Utah Beach to stop our assault. They were stopped in their tracks on the causeway, never allowing the enemy to retake the bridge.

    My dad was a pilot with the 404th Squadron, 371st FG, 9th Air Force. He was lost over Cherbourg-Octeville on 24 June 1944 while attacking the German guns at Ft du Roule, overlooking the city. An 88mm round blew the tail completely off his aircraft and he went straight down from approx. 2000′, crashing into Octeville. Today there is a monument on his crash site on Rue du Poitoi in the town. The citizens of Octeville told me that he is their Liberator, since he was the only Allied soldier to give his life within the boundaries of the town.

  11. any body frome 3rd brig 1st of the 508 a co. 68-69

  12. Thank you for your article. My Dad, William Buchta, was 82nd Airborne, 507th, Company D, First Platoon in WWII. As many others, I grew up listing to every word of every story Dad wanted to tell. When he and Mom visited the cemetery at Normandy back in the 80’s, the first 4 crosses Dad saw were of 4 men in his platoon… men he saw die. Needless to say, emotion got the best of him and they had to turn away. I’m sure you can well imagine what it was like went I went with my dad to see “Saving Private Ryan”, and can’t even begin to imagine what he was feeling when he saw that opening scene. The movie begins and ends at that cemetery. I think I watched Dad’s facial expression more than I watched the movie. Dad was injured in the Battle of the Bulge, and went home after over a year in hospitals in Europe and then stateside.

    • Hi,

      My dad was in the 507th paratrooper’s Company E. I am looking for any history or information about them during the war. Any information that you can share would be appreciated.

      Thanks,

      Ron

      • My grandfather George M. Hickey, (PVT First Class, NY) was in the 507th Company E.
        He returned home with an injury suffered in the battle and died of those injuries in Cushing General Hospital in Mass on August 16, 1945.
        I am looking for any information concerning his company.

  13. Love reading all of this.I am the daughter of a 507th paratrooper who jumped onto Normandy on DDay near Fresville. For me history has come full circle as I now own a historical home at La Fiere not 3 km from where my Dad landed.To see such interest from those who have visited is heartwarming to me.

    • Hi,

      My dad was in the 507 Paratrooper’s Company E. I was wondering if you have any information or history about his unit during the war.

      Thanks,

      Ron

  14. I’m currently researching the 82nd and 101st Airborne activities on D-Day in preparation for a visit. Like David Laack I am a Serviceman with the RAF going on a Personal Development tour.

    Your comments maintain the connection and reality of the events which I hope to share with the other personnel attending.

    Thank you for sharing and your families involved for their brave actions.

  15. I am writing a story about 1st Sgt. Ray Nelson, F Co/401st (3/325) who fought at LaFiere. Ray, 95, is alive and feisty in Beloit, WI.

    I’d appreciate any stories about the 401st at LaFiere.

    All The Way,

    Tom
    501st/82nd Airborne 1960-63
    Editor
    The Wisco All Airborne Reporter

    • Tom,
      My uncle, Corporal Frank Gallagher, served with F Co. 325th GIR and was wounded (severely) on June 9, 1944. I’m guessing that it might have occurred in the battle for the la Fiere causeway. He passed away in the mid 1970’s. I was wondering if you have ever come across his name.

      • John, I have not but will send this to Ray’s daughter and call Ray.

        Thanks!

        Tom

  16. The barn of the La Fiere manor is now an American-French Bed & Bath named ‘B&B a la Bataille de La Fiere’ and is owned by Randolphe and Vivian Roger.

  17. just got back from a four day visite to normandy with my brother.we camped at Camping la Baie des Veys a bit behined Utah Beach.i didnt realise we where drivin past the battle area nearly every day.now i have read more about it we’ve alredy started planing our next visit next year.What an amazing place Nornmandy is,i now have a more understanding how precious life is.
    Thanks for been so BRAVE
    Nick from England

  18. i spent the better part of a week this september in normandy. la fiere bridge was an amazing part of my trip. even moreso now that i have read all about the battlesite. i was touring with my former company commander in vietnam 3rd brigade d company, 1/505 82nd abn, james callahan who now lives in normandy. what a wonderful trip. thank you for telling such a vivid and remarkable story. i took many pictures and it is so meaninful how it looks now vs. june, 1944. i am proud to be an american and to have served with the 1/505.

  19. If anyone wishes a copy of The Wisco Airborne Reporter Summer Edition, which includes an article on 1st Sgt.Ray Nelson, F/401st (3rd Bn 325) who fought at LaFiere, send me an email:

    tlaney1776@gmail.com

  20. I am looking for a war time photograph of Capt. Floyd”Ben” Schartzwalder of CO “G” 507 PIR 82 Airborne Division, later to become head football coach for Syracuse Univ.

  21. my father served in the 82nd 505 pir co.a 1st bat. and was at La Fiere during those days, well at least 2 of those days. was wounded on D+2 by art. shells. Was very good friends with R. Murphy, B. Ownes, W. Tamarty, and others He made 3 Combat jumps with co. A (Sic., Ita., Normadey) before being wounded so bad he was shipped home. He dien in 2008 with shrapnel still in his back and near his heart.

  22. Hi,
    My dad was part of the 507th Paratrooper Infantry Regiment, Company E .
    I am looking for any information or history about this group that you are willing to share.

    Thanks,

    Ron

  23. I am looking for any info that might help me find where my uncle, Wilmer Braunschweig was killed on June 11, 1944. He was 325 GIR Company F and was at La Fiere during the battle there.

    John

  24. My uncle, S.Sargent Carl Wesley Warren was in the 1HQ 507th. Has anyone ever run across his name? Looking for any info at all.

  25. The tanks that were used by the Germans were captured Renault R35 tanks and not Hotchkiss H39 tanks. Just look at the track suspension units that hold the track road wheels in place. The Airborne Museum in Sainte-mere-Eglise has now built a replica of one of these knocked out tanks. It is a Renault R35. I was there last week (Oct 2015). There article on the battle said there were only three tanks.

  26. Was at the causeway in the Summer of 2013, and still cant believe I was there. To read about a battle as a child and to see and stand in the exact locations is what an amateur military historian dreams about. US paratroopers paved the way into Europe through the blood filled fields of Normandy!

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