Walk Where They Fought: La Fière, 82d Airborne Division, D-Day 1944
Tour Point 5 – The Marais : At the base of the hillside upon which the Iron Mike statue is erected, the north-flowing Merderet River cuts across the open, marshy marais . In June 1944, the plain was completely flooded, which restricted maneuver and forced the causeway fight.
Tour Point 6 – Stone/Masonry Bridge : To the south, the river flows under the D-15 where it is spanned by a narrow, stone masonry bridge. During the fighting on June 6-7, 505th paratroopers who were dug in on the west side of this bridge absorbed the full weight of the German armored counterattack.
Tour Point 7 – Causeway : Just beyond the western end of the bridge, the causeway bends slightly to the right before the straight 500-yard shot to Cauquigny. On June 6, 1944 , two A Company/505th paratroopers – Private First Class Lenold Peterson and Private Marcus Heim Jr. – occupied a foxhole on the south side of the road between the bridge and the bend in the causeway. They used an M-1A1 bazooka to disable one Hotchkiss H-38 and two Renault R-35 light tanks. In fact, when they ran out of ammunition for the bazooka, Heim sprinted across the road under enemy fire to retrieve additional 2.36-inch rockets. For their stand against the German tanks during the attack on La Fière, Peterson and Heim each were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Tour Point 8 – U.S. Artillery Position : When the preliminary bombardment for the assault across the causeway began at 10:30 a.m. on June 9, the 155 mm howitzers of the 345th Field Artillery Battalion were located in the hedgerows behind the manor. As 155 mm high explosive shells slammed into the German positions on the west bank of the Merderet, Soldiers of 1st/325th Glider Infantry were crouched along the low stone wall running along the east side of the mill.
Tour Point 9 – Stone Wall : Although raked by enemy small-arms fire throughout the battle, this stone wall would serve as the jumping off point for glider infantrymen and paratroopers alike. When they left the relative safety of the wall, they stepped out onto the bridge itself. From the bridge, the La Fière causeway stretches 500 yards west to the village of Cauquigny . Although it is paved now, the causeway was a simple raised dirt road in June 1944. The causeway today is also far less overgrown than it was during the invasion when thick hedgerows and shrubs flanked both sides all the way to the west bank.
Tour Point 10 – Causeway Road : As visitors cross the La Fière causeway today, it is easy for them to understand why so many of the men of the 3d/325th Glider Infantry sought protection on its sides during the D+3 attack. After six decades, the road’s elevation is still the same as it was during World War II. The 6-foot mound that it sits on top of keeps the road surface high and dry during seasonal floods, and on June 9, 1944 , it offered much-needed shelter from bullets and explosive shell fragmentation. Despite the fact that the causeway was overgrown with dense vegetation that day, its entire length was swept with deadly enemy fire. With that vegetation now largely gone, it is possible to see landmarks on the opposite bank, especially buildings of the village of Cauquigny.
Tour Point 11 – Cauquigny Church : This tiny settlement consists of six stone masonry buildings and a community church. The church was heavily damaged by the preliminary bombardment on June 9, but was subsequently rebuilt using elements of the original structure. As glider infantrymen from the 325th and paratroopers from the 507th reached the end of the causeway, some disappeared into the hedgerows while others turned toward the church to engage German soldiers there. As more and more Americans poured across the causeway from La Fière, the Germans began to pull back toward Le Motey and Amfreville. Abundant evidence of the intense fighting can be seen today among the graves in the churchyard where bullet damage is plentiful.
|The rebuilt Roman Catholic church on the west end of the La Fière causeway at Cauquigny. Image Credit: MARTIN K.A. MORGAN||The churchyard at Cauquigny is riddled with bullet damage. Image Credit: MARTIN K.A. MORGAN|
Tour Point 12 – Medal of Honor Action Site : Just a few hedgerows beyond the church at Cauquigny is one of the most meaningful sites in all of Normandy . When the 1st/325th attacked Cauquigny from Timmes’ Orchard before dawn on June 9, one platoon of C Company was cut off and about to be overrun. This platoon’s 23-year-old BAR gunner, Private First Class Charles N. DeGlopper, volunteered to provide covering fire for his comrades so they could fall back to safety. DeGlopper then stepped out into the open and began shoulder-firing his weapon, instantly attracting the enemy’s attention. Although he was immediately hit, he reloaded and continued his one-man attack. With enemy bullets from multiple sources directed at him, DeGlopper soon fell dead.
For his gallant self-sacrifice at Cauquigny, Charles DeGlopper was posthumously awarded the 82d Airborne Division’s only Medal of Honor for the Normandy campaign. The site where this legendary action took place is just one of the many things that make the battlefield at La Fière a rewarding and meaningful place to visit.
Martin K.A. Morgan , PhD, is a frequent visitor to Normandy, especially La Fière. He holds the position of Research Historian at the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana, and is the author of “Down To Earth: The 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Normandy” (Schiffer, 2004).