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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

Major Teddy Sanford’s 1st Battalion/325th Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR) drew the mission. The 325th had arrived by glider beginning at 7 a.m. on June 7, and had not as of yet been committed to heavy action. According to the plan, the men of the 1st/325th would attempt to reinforce the paratroopers isolated at Timmes’ Orchard and attack south toward the western terminus of the La Fière causeway at Cauquigny. They crossed the flooded Merderet and began their assault just before first light, despite drawing fire from German soldiers in the famous Grey Chateau. Moving south from Timmes’ Orchard, the battalion at first advanced steadily against sporadic resistance, but as the sun began to rise, the defenders quickly organized. The German counterattack that followed overwhelmed the glidermen. With concentrated automatic weapons fire directed at them, the 325th were unable to maintain the momentum of the advance and thus began withdrawing toward Timmes’ Orchard in an effort to avoid a disaster.  

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82d Airborne Division paratroopers receive awards from Maj. Gen. Omar N. Bradley at La Haye-du-Puis, July 1944. Capt. Bob Rae is next in line and is about to receive the Distinguished Service Cross he earned on the La Fière causeway on June 9. Image Credit: COURTESY OF DOMINIQUE FRANCOIS A view of the Cherbourg/Carentan railroad line just to the east of La Fière. Hundreds of 82d Airborne Division paratroopers followed this line to where it intersects with the road that runs between Ste.-Mère-Église and La Fière. Image Credit: MARTIN K.A. MORGAN

When word reached General Ridgway that the attack on the west bank had failed, he ordered a direct assault across the La Fière causeway and appointed his 37-year-old assistant division commander, Brigadier General James M. Gavin, to coordinate the attack. Gavin selected the 3d Battalion/325th GIR to serve as the spearhead of the effort and designated a composite company of 507th paratroopers to serve as the reserve force in the event things turned ugly for the glidermen. Leading this composite force was Captain Robert D. Rae of Service Company/507th.  

At 10:30 a.m. on June 9 (D+3), the plan was set in motion when six 155 mm howitzers of the 345th Field Artillery Battalion commenced a preliminary bombardment that pounded German positions on the west bank of the Merderet. The barrage ended after 15 minutes, and then the infantry charged in. Leading the way was Captain John Sauls’ G Company/325th, which jumped off from a low stone wall running along the south side of the road at a perpendicular angle to the bridge and causeway. Sauls and his men ran out onto the bridge and started down the 500-yard open roadway to Cauquigny. As soon as the preliminary bombardment lifted, the Germans began pouring small-arms fire at the exposed and vulnerable glidermen. Despite enemy fire, Captain Sauls and a group of about 30 men made it all the way to Cauquigny. Others, however, were not so fortunate. Lacking cover, the men of E Company/325th and then F Company/325th began to fall. The causeway was soon littered with dead, dying and wounded troopers. The German machine-gun fire was of such murderous intensity that many of the men threw themselves down on the edges of the elevated road where they found at least some measure of protection. As the glidermen of G Company stumbled forward, stepping over the casualties scattered along the road, the assault bogged down and lost its momentum.  

An aerial view of Manoir de La Fière, photographed from the south side of the manor, facing north. The Merderet River runs through the upper part of the photo. Note the hedgerows and mounds dominating the approaches to the east side of the manor. Image Credit: COURTESY OF YVES POISSON The west side of the main house at Manoir de La Fière. Image Credit: MARTIN K.A. MORGAN

Back at La Fière, General Gavin could only assess the situation based on what he could see – which was not encouraging. Soldiers crouched along the sides of the road embankment in search of cover and dozens of dead and wounded men lay sprawled out in the middle of the causeway. To Gavin, it appeared that the 3d/325th GIR’s attack had stalled and that the entire battalion was about to retreat. That’s when he turned to Bob Rae and said, “All right, you’ve got to go.” With that, Captain Rae led his men out onto the La Fière causeway. The Company streamed across the bridge in two columns with Rae in the lead. As the 507th troopers passed glidermen, they shouted for them to follow, and many of them did. Although Rae’s men suffered casualties, most of them made it all the way across and joined the 325th troopers struggling in the hedgerows at Cauquigny.  

The sudden arrival of Rae Company 507th and additional 325th troopers turned the tide of the battle. Soon, the Germans were pulling back from Cauquigny in a fighting retreat toward Le Motey and Amfreville. The causeway now belonged to the 82d Airborne Division and the battle of La Fière was won.  

The Tour

Today, La Fière isn’t much different than it was in June 1944, and it can be an exciting visit for any military history enthusiast. Reaching the manor is a drive of only a few miles from Ste. Mère-Église on the D-15 west toward the village of Pont-L ‘Abbé. (See La Fiere Battlefield Tour map.)  

Tour Point 1 – Railroad Embankment : On the way to the manor, the first stop of any tour of the La Fière battlefield is the point where the D-15 crosses over the Carentan/ Cherbourg railroad line. As hundreds of 82d Airborne Division paratroopers slogged their way out of the Merderet River inundated area during the predawn hours of D-Day, they moved south along the railroad tracks until they reached this spot. They then climbed up to the road and turned west to approach La Fière manor. It was here that 82d paratroopers took their first cautious steps toward the enemy before dawn on June 6, 1944. 

The horse stable at Manoir de La Fière. Image Credit: MARTIN K.A. MORGAN When the Merderet River is not in flood stage, it is relatively narrow, shallow and slow moving. This photograph shows the river running to the north side of the La Fiere bridge. Image Credit: MARTIN K.A. MORGAN

Tour Point 2 – Gavin’s Foxhole : Several hundred yards southwest of the railroad crossing, the D-15 makes a sharp bend to the right just before La Fière manor. Beyond the bend on the left (south) side of the road, is a shallow pit that is identified as General Gavin’s foxhole (see tip of red arrow for Tour Point 2). Although the 37-year-old brigadier general was in this immediate area for the first three days of the invasion, many people remain skeptical that Gavin used this little depression in the ground as his foxhole.  

Tour Point 3 – The Manor : Arriving at La Fière manor is fairly obvious even to a first-time visitor because the hedgerows that flank the D-15 give way to the Merderet River basin , an open pasture area that the French call marais . While the Merderet is only a few yards wide and a few feet deep here, during the summer of 1944 this entire expanse of pastureland was effectively a large shallow lake.  

La Fière manor is a cluster of seven stone buildings on the south side of the road. With a barn, stable, mill, tractor shed and château, the manor has all of the structures needed for an autonomous farm. Today La Fière is owned by Yves and Chantal Poisson, who operate it as a dairy farm and chambres d’hôte, or guesthouse.  

The Merderet River Bridge at Manoir de La Fière. Image Credit: MARTIN K.A. MORGAN The stone wall connecting the mill at La Fière with the rest of the compound. On June 9, 1944, an artillery round blew a 7-foot gap in this wall. The men of the 3d Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry and Rae’s Company of the 507th stepped off from here when they began their attacks across the causeway. Note the causeway in the background and the church at Cauquigny in the distance. Image Credit: MARTIN K.A. MORGAN

Tour Point 4 – Iron Mike Statue : Immediately across the D-15 from the manor is the airborne monument known as Iron Mike. From the statue at the monument, visitors can take in the best view of the entire La Fière battlefield.

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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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