Operation Overlord: D-Day

PIR TrainingGen. Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking to 502nd PIR Paratroopers at Greenham Common, England, 5 June, 1944

When the orders came for Operation OVERLORD, the 502nd was tasked to parachute on Drop Zone “A” and secure the two northerly exits, behind Utah Beach. The 3rd Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Robert Cole, was tasked to secure Exit #4, near the village of Saint Martin de Varreville and Exit #3, near the village of Audoville la Hubert. The 1st Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Patrick Cassidy and 2nd Battalion commanded by Lt. Col. Steve Chappuis were responsible for destroying four concrete blockhouses with German 122 mm artillery pieces located southwest of Saint Martin de Varreville.

On the evening of 5 June 1944, the Troopers of the 502nd boarded transport aircraft and lifted off into the evening sky. In the early morning hours of 6 June 1944 over France, four battalion serials came in ten minutes apart led by the 2nd Battalion and Regimental Headquarters. The leading planes, AirfieldParatroopers moving to their aircraft, 5 June 1944 scattered by low clouds and German antiaircraft fire dropped the majority of the 2nd Battalion outside of their drop zone and scattered them across the French countryside. The Paratroopers of the 377th PFA Battalion only recovered one of their six 75 mm howitzers after the drop. The fifty men of the 377th PFA Battalion who assembled during the day fought as infantry in scattered actions. Troopers from two sticks of Able Company received the green jump light too late and exited the aircraft over the English Channel. Some of the Troopers laden with heavy equipment drown. One of these unfortunate Troopers was Capt. Richard L. Davidson the commander of Able Company. Col. Moseley suffered a badly broken leg during the drop. Shortly after the drop he relinquished command of the 502nd to Lt. Col. Michael H. Michaelis, the Regimental EXO.

Despite these difficulties, the Deuce consolidated elements of 1st and 3rd Battalions and continued on task. The commander of the 3rd Battalion, 502nd, Lt. Col. Robert G. Cole, dropped east of Ste. Mère-Eglise. He made his way toward St. Martin de Varreville. In the darkness, Paratroopers snapped toy “crickets” to identify themselves as US Paratroopers and began assembling in small groups. JumpingParatroopers prepare to jump before dawn 6 June 1944. The groups were generally mixed and often far from their intended DZs. The men assembled groups for leadership and safety in numbers. Seventy-five men, including some paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, gathered in this way under Lt. Col. Cole and moved steadily toward the coast. Except for an encounter with a small enemy convoy on the way, in which several German soldiers were killed and ten taken prisoner, the group had no trouble reaching its objective. Discovering that the guns of the St. Martin coastal battery had been removed and that the position was deserted, Cole went on to Audouville-la-Hubert where his men established positions at the western end of the causeway without a fight. About two hours later, at 0930, the enemy began retreating across the causeway from the beach. The paratroopers, lying in wait, shot down fifty to seventy-five retreating German Soldiers and at 1300 hours made contact with elements of the 4th Infantry Division. They had suffered no casualties. Cole, having completed his mission, remained in the area to collect and organize his battalion. By the end of the day he had about 250 men. With this group he was ordered into regimental reserve near Blosville for the next day's operations.

Lt. Col. Cassidy, leading 1st Battalion, landed in the center of the battalion zone near St. Germain-de-Varreville. He collected a small force mostly of his own men and moved toward the stone buildings on the eastern edge of Mésières which were thought to be occupied by the German unit manning the St. Martin de Varreville coastal battery. Without opposition the battalion secured the crossroads west of St. Martin near which the building stood. Taking stock of his position, Lt. Col. Cassidy found that both the northern exits for which the regiment was responsible were clear. He then made contact with a group of forty-five men of the battalion who had assembled north of his own position and ordered them to establish a defensive line at Foucarville. The situation to the Drop Zones 101st Divsion Drop Pattern, 6 June 1944 west of St. Martin de Varreville, however, remained obscure. Lt. Col. Cassidy kept a portion of his force in reserve to block any enemy attempt to break through from the west to the beaches. A group of about fifteen men were sent to clear the buildings on the eastern edge of Mésières. S/Sgt. Harrison Summers rushed the buildings one by one, kicked in the doors, and sprayed the interiors with his Thompson Submachinegun. On occasion he had the assistance of another man, but it was his drive and initiative that kept the attack going. About 150 Germans had been killed or captured when the last building was cleared in the afternoon. Lt. Col. Michael H. Michaelis arrived near the close of this action with 200 men. This allowed Lt. Col. Cassidy to complete his D-Day mission of covering the northern flank of the regiment and tying in with the 82nd Airborne Division on the left. While the fight near Mésières was in progress the men of the 1st Battalion whom Lt. Col. Cassidy had sent to Foucarville in the morning had succeeded in establishing four roadblocks in and around the town and had trapped and largely destroyed a four-vehicle enemy troop convoy. Despite this early success the roadblocks were threatened all day with being overrun by a superior enemy force that occupied prepared positions on a hill to the northwest.

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