Taking the Douve River & Winning a Presidential Unit Citation: Details of Dad’s First Battle In Normandy

by Kim on August 14, 2013

 

Douve-River2My Dad was in Company E of the 2nd Battalion in the 9th Infantry Division of the Army. Here are details of the first battle after arriving in Normandy France. What courage and valor which resulted in a Presidential Unit Citation and being very successful in Normandy.

“Between June 14th and June 16th, Company E was extremely significant in winning several objectives near Orglandes. France.

On the 16th of June at 5am, the Regiment resumed the attack and had the objective to reach a point just short of the Douve River at St Columbe with the goal of taking the bridgehead of the river. The river was flooded that year. Crossing the river was complicated by the extremely flooding that had occurred earlier that week. It was rough, country, muddy, and very hard-going for the infantrymen. Weapons couldn’t be carried on the vehicles, so the 60 pound guns had to be hand carried.

Company E, under the aggressive Captain Prindus got out ahead of the rest of the Battalion that first  night and was isolated for a time, being surrounded on 3 sides by the enemy. Company E was forced to dig in because there were Germans all around. The next morning a column of Germans went right by them on the road, with slung arms. Company took the whole column that morning Company E had more trouble getting back to the Battalion than they originally had in advancing to their position the first night.

Company E lead the way with a platoon of heavy machine guns attached, followed by F Company, then by G. Before reaching the corssroads, considerable quantities of enemy material were found abandoned, but there was no opposition at the crossroad. The  battalion regrouped. At 3pm, the Battalion had run into opposition at the crossroads with a MG fire from the north, coming from the houses up the road. The 2nd platoon of E company immediately deployed, infiltrating across the road, and entered the orchards to the north of the cross roads and made a “helluva racket with rifles, BARS, and everything we had” says Sgt Burr, and others. They worked their way down to the houses and forced the surrender of the Jerries, 17 or 18 of them, after killing several. In the meantime, Pfc Daniel Smith one of the best gunners in the regiment entered the draw just West of the Cross road and picked off several Jerries to the North.

From the cross road the Battalion continued across country, making a wide arc to the North, for enemy tanks had been seen on the main road. E Co continued to lead, with the 1st Platoon out ahead. St. Columbe was entered without opposition. While en route the Regimental Commanding Officer, Col Frederick J. De Rohan, had talked to Lt Col Michael Be Kauffman; Bn CO, and told him to try for the town of St. Colombe and attempt a bridgehead across the Douve. So the Bn pushed ahead, having kept up a rather fast pace all day. E Co crossed the Douve, taking the first bridge intact, but found the 2nd bridge, over a sizable tributary, blown. This was no major obstacle to E’s advance, although the tanks, with the 2nd Platoon of F co on them, decided they could not cross. The tanks received some artillery fire.

E Co was well on its way across the causeway, which was only about 35 feet wide, F Co following, when German shells began to fall. It was about 1600. The exact directions from which they came was hard to determine. Some thought it was friendly fire at first because it appeared to come from the left rear. Some fire came from the higher ground to the south, west of the river. Apparently the Battalion had passed some enemy artillery. The 1st platoon of H Co attached to E Co had remained just east of the bridge, and were set up, but the brush was thick and they had no fields of fire; one shell had just killed 4 Sargeants in the platoon! Word came back that E Co from Nehou also. Lt Thomas Wiggins, commanding the 1st MG platoon, went forward to reconnoiter, sent back for Sgt Albert Shelby, section Sgt, but he was hit while attempting to go forward, and died later. The platoon was now badly depleted and demoralized. Corporal Mack Quinn took over the platoon and tried to reorganize it. There were several casualties in the platoon, everyone was hollering for medics, and men started streaming back from across the river. The machine gunners thought it was E co, the leading Co, falling back. Actually, it was F Co. (All of F Co had reached the main bridge when artillery hit it. Lt Allen had gone back to the 3rd Bn for help and when he returned he found his platoon was strung along the road, single file). The 2nd platoon had been ordered back to the main bridge on instructions of Col Kauffman, where all of the 2nd platoon took up a position in one field to the left of the road, West of the bridge. One platoon of G Co was also in position on the opposite side of the road, across from the creamery.

What remained of the 1st MG platoon started back also, more or less panicky as a result of the excitement of the last few minutes. The mortar platoon of M Co. had taken up positions on the higher ground just on the East edge of St Colombe and was firing into Nehou and the surrounding orchards. Its vehicles were in the orchards to the left of the road.

Capt West immediately reorganized his MG platoons. The leader of the 2nd platoon had started back with his platoon, for which the Capt relieved him because it had been done without orders. Because of the shortage of leaders Capt West dissolved the 1st platoon, distributing the men between the 2nd Platoon and the 3rd platoon.

The 2nd platoon of F Co stayed at the bridge only about 45 minutes. It had been intended they dig in there as a reserve for E Co. This was about 1900. The platoon was about half dug in when it was ordered to move back to town, to take up a position along the stone wall by the church, astride the road and in front of H Co. This area was shelled by the enemy, but they dug in nevertheless, preparing to form a perimeter defense around the town. The rest of F co had preceded the 2nd platoon back to town and had begun setting up a defensive position. The 1st platoon under St. Allen dug in front of H co to the right of the road; Lt Joseph Gallo put his 3rd platoon in position to the 2nd’s left. All this was done by dark.

All these difficulties, the artillery fire, fire from Nehou, the blown bridge and the shortage of ammunition caused a great deal of uncertainty for some time. Our tanks were firing on Nehou from St. Columbe, but they also ran out of ammunition. E and G Cos and part of F Co were getting direct fire from German weapons on the nose to the South. The Bn Commander, Col Kauffman, had left temporarily, apparently to get ammunition. Major Wolfe, Bn Ex Officer, came up about this time and also sent someone back for ammunition, then went to the 3rd Bn to see if they were in a position to offer support. Upon his return he found Col Kauffman returning with a 2 ½ ton truck with ammunition (which, incidentally, crossed the blown bridge!).

All units were badly shaken, from the fire to the South and left rear and from the town of Nehou, but ammunition was brought in, M Co’s MG platoon joined E Co on the east edge of Nehou where E co went into position. The attack on Nehou, had to be postponed till the next day because of the lack of tank support, the approaching darkness and because of the bad shaking the Bn had taken that day. Most of E Co went into position SE of Nehou on a little knoll which the North/South road runs along, where it continued to get mortar fire from the enemy.  At 2200 artillery again fired, enemy and friendly. There was confusion in the units and units were badly mixed. F Co had pulled back to establish defense of St. Colombe – they were told to hold it at all costs.

During the night, the 3rd Bn moved through the 2nd and in the morning led the attack on Nehou at 0700. Nehou had been evacuated however. The 2nd battalion came up, reaching the needed position about dawn. They dig in, slept for 2 hours, to the north of the road. That same morning Capt Sprindus (E Co) and col Kauffmann (Bn CO) made a reconnaissance up the road, meeting some MG fire, and planned the attack. E was to make the attack, from the gully which the right followed, south of the road. The attack was schedule for 0800. Capt Sprindus called the NCOs together (there were no officers with CO, except Capt Sprindus and the Executive Officer, Lt John Cookson), said “We’ve got to take these hills. Let’s show the Colonel we can do it without officers!” E Co began to infiltrate across the road to its LD along the RY in the gully. Sgt Burr took the 2nd platoon across first. The 1st squad crossed at the road junction at (006256) and the 2nd squad 100 yards farther down the road (SE) and the 3rd squad still another 100 yards east. The road was covered with MG and heavier gunfire from the hills and from the direction of Beaumont-Hague. One by one the men crossed the road in the vicinity of the RY; the 2nd and 3rd squads were hit by MG fire, and by mines in the field between the highway and the railway. The 1st platoon followed the 2nd and took up positions in the minefield. The 3rd followed the 1st and went into position between the other 2, in the Ry bed.

The attack was schedule for 0800, but there were delays, and it actually didn’t jump off till 0915. Smoke had been requested and delivered, at 0800, so it actually was no help to the attackers since they were an hour and 15 minutes late. There was no other support.

It was a typical Sprindus attack – 3 platoons abreast, 3 squads abreast in each, in skirmisher formation, who at the signal for the attack charged up the hill firing while moving. At the head of this Co was not the fabulous Capt Sprindus, who charged across the minefield on the right, cane in his right hand, map case in the left, with his pistol, as always, dangling in front, between his legs, his fatigues in shreds. His voice could always be heard above the others, and as he went forward he removed mine after mine to clear the way for those who followed. Most of the opposition came from Hill 179. While the 1st and 2nd Platoons went over this hill the 3rd went up the draw between hills 179 and 175, swung to the west down the draw, circled hill 179 and advanced on the town up the river bed to the east of the road. While going through the draw the 3rd platoon was at one time pinned down by an enemy emplacement on hill 179. Pc Vondershere maneuvered his 2nd squad to take the position despite 4 casualties and heavy MG and mortar fire, enabling the Co to move ahead. The 1st platoon took 70 prisoners on the way in.

Some Jerries left their positions up the road upon hearing the tanks, and took off for town. Col Kauffman now got on the road and told the tankers to get on into town and join E in mopping up. The tanks moved and one squad from the 2nd platoon took each side of the street, clearing the houses. The attack lasted about 2 hours. The 3rd platoon of E ran into MB fire to the SW of town, but there was no serious delay, and the town was entered at about 1130. E took 53 prisoners, including a Lt Col in a bunker just SW of town. The Jerries held out until they had thoroughly destroyed all radio equipment.  At noon came the German artillery. Prisoners said the town was going to be shelled, so the American units moved to the western edge, the shelling did follow. Shells fell everywhere, coming from the direction of Auderville. Most of the men took refuge in stone buildings. One shell hit a feather bed and for a minute, Sgt Burr said it looked as though it were snowing.

The attack on Beaumont-Hague was different from the fighting that had been done thus far. It was done on different terrain (across open, bare ground); it was made without supporting weapons with the exception of 2 LMGs with the 1st platoon. The mortars couldn’t displace fast enough to give support; and it was an infantry assault, 3 squads abreast, 3 platoons abreast in skirmishers, the kind of a charge which could be easily associated with Capt Sprindus. We see it later at Sadoc Hill.

Major Sprindus was later wounded while commanding the 1st Bn. Beaumont-Hague was a rather costly attack, for the Co suffered 28 casualties, 1/3 of them dead. But Beaumont-Hague was taken and the obstacle to the Cap removed, which had helped up the other 2 Bns for a couple of days. They had told E Co they’d never take the ground. But they did.

The 2nd Battalion pushed ahead and captured 2/3 of the bridges keeping them intact and crossed the River, over achieving the goal of the day.

The 2nd Battalion, 60th Division of the 9th Infantry was given a Presidential Unit Citation for these few days. It was considered in hindsight to be a major factor in cutting the peninsula to Cherbourg France and winning in Normandy.

Cherbourg and R&R

The troops continued into Cherbourg to cut off the peninsula and give the Allied troops control of the supply and shipping point, essentially the English Channel. They encountered open terrain, sparsely wooded, and hilly terrains. There was some enemy action, but at this point the enemy gave up and retreated to the city. On June 25th, there were 1000+ German prisoners taken.

The 60th continued toward the Beaumont, France and encountered mines. The terrain was still hilly and the guys were running uphill towards gunfire, shooting as they are running. The next day Beaumont was taken.

Starting the next day July 1, the Cotentin Peninsula was conquered and the 9th division got one week of R&R at les Pieux, a village southwest of Cherbourg and north of Barneville. It was a pup-tent city, complete with incessant rain. Almost everyone got mail, magazines, and small packages of food and other items from home. Uniforms were replenished, clothes were washed in streams, and hot food was given twice a day. One afternoon, a unit of Army’s special services division rolled up and setup a stage show with 8 French chorus girls, and 3 French burlesque-type comedians who had been taught some dirty American words. Card games were played and the radio was played.”

**Taken from After-Action Reports Dated June 13 – 30.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Yuri Beckers February 15, 2016 at 4:29 am

Hello Kim, great story here. I am currently working on a Battle report for this same event as well for my website. I am a researcher of the 9th Infantry Division in WWII. I would love to get in touch with you to learn a bit more about your father and his service with the 9th Infantry Division. Would it be possible to get in touch about this? Thank you.
Great post! Kind regards, Yuri

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Kim February 15, 2016 at 10:18 am

Yuri – It seems we have the same interests. I would love to talk to you about it and will take a look at your website as well. The best way to contact me is kknixon@sbcglobal.net I started a new blog when I moved to the Netherlands about travel. I recently went to Sicily to retrace my father’s steps there as well. http://theroadtogoodintentions.blogspot.nl/2015/06/retracing-dads-steps-in-sicily-world.html And the Ardennes http://theroadtogoodintentions.blogspot.nl/2014/08/visitin-ardennes-looking-for-more-wwii.html I was there for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands http://theroadtogoodintentions.blogspot.nl/2014/09/definition-of-hero.html

Kind regards,
Kim

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