American Army

Doughboys: The American Infantry Section in France, 1944

The American infantry section in Normandy is a very different beast to it’s German counterpart covered in our last Devblog. For one, the American section tends to be bigger at 12 men rather than the German 10, and the doctrine of it’s employment very different. From a US field manual first issued in 1944, “The rifle squad consists of a sergeant (squad leader), a corporal (assistant squad leader and antitank rifle grenadier), an automatic rifle team (automatic rifleman, assistant automatic rifleman, and ammunition bearer), and seven riflemen, two of whom are designated as scouts.”

The Section

The American Infantry Section, from an American training manual published in May of 1944

Nominally, on paper, this section has no submachine guns, although in practice section leaders and their assistants would often carry the M4A1 Thompson into combat to augment the offensive fire-power of their section. Nominally, the section support weapon is the Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR, a steady fire-rate long rifle fed by 20 round clips. In the assault, the Americans suffered from a lack of offensive fire capability despite their semi-automatic M1 Garand rifles, which lead to some sections substituting the BAR for the M1911a1 Light Machine Gun.

American Infantry

American infantry training ‘somewhere in England’ prior to D-Day.

In theory, the section broke into three sections for the attack. The grenadiers and BAR team covered the assistant squad leader or squad leader and manoeuvre section (riflemen) in the advance. This rarely worked, as the above mentioned shortage of offensive fire-power seriously hampered the ability of sections to lay down effective fire to cover the assaulting section. As such, American sections learned quickly that a setup using 2 BARS, spilt into two teams with the Section Leader and his Assistant mutually supporting each other worked far better, with the teams covering each other in the advance.

 

Troops of US VII Corps move over the seawall as part of the assault up Utah beach, June 1944

Troops of US VII Corps move over the seawall on UTAH beach, 1944

American sections in Normandy tended to be inexperienced, as for many (although not all) formations Normandy was the first real action of the war. As such, casualties were relatively high in comparison to their British allies, whose Normandy contingent consisted mainly of battle hardened troops from North Africa and Italy. As such, American infantry were used to shooting at paper targets at known ranges, and their training rarely employed any live fire field exercises to test the initiative of the section leaders. Therefore US riflemen were often unwilling to put fire on all known and more importantly, suspected enemy locations during combat on the off chance their ranging was off. This was overcome to a certain degree, but was never entirely obviated with experience.

Captain Robert C. Crisson briefing his company on their role in the invasion of Europe - May 1944

Captain Robert C. Crisson briefing his company on their role in the invasion of Europe – May 1944

It is also worth noting that the American experience of Normandy was an experience of facing German second-line troops. In Normandy, the Germans considered the British army group the chief danger to their occupation and position, as it was a veteran formation with experience and will to win over that of it’s American counterpart. The US forces were seen as ‘the secondary flank’ and, as such, had secondary troops committed to it.

The first line troops the Germans possessed, such as the SS Panzer Grenadiers and more experienced formations, almost always tended to be employed against British or Canadian formations, and not against the American sector. As such, the American lightning advance so often lauded by Academics as showing American prowess is nothing of the sort, only the sweeping aside of second-line units whilst the real fighting was taking place to the north among the Canadian and British units.

Next time: Terriers and Tea: The British Section in Normandy

American paratrooper James Flanagan (2nd Platoon, C Co, 1-502nd PIR), among the first to make successful landings on the continent, holds a Nazi flag captured in a village assault. France. 6 June 1944

Into the Cotentin – American Paratroopers jump into Normandy

As part of Operation Overlord, there was a sizeable airborne landing. This was to tie up German re-enforcements to the beaches, distracting them away from the seaborne landing force and onto the paratroopers dropped throughout the Normandy countryside behind the lines. The United States used two divisions of Paratroopers in jumps on the morning of D-Day itself, around 13,000 men of the U.S. 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne Divisions jumping at night followed by just under 4000 glider troops during D-Day itself. This article will focus on these units and their operations in Normandy durign the first 24 hours.

The Planned drop zones of the Americans in Normandy for D-Day.

The Planned drop zones of the Americans in Normandy for D-Day.

The plan itself was simple: The 101st Airborne (part of Mission Albany) were to drop in around Carentan on 3 drop zones, securing the approaches to the town and then the town itself, destroying the garrison and opening it as an escape route from the beaches. Mission Boston, which was the name given to the 82nd Airborne jump, had the same basic objectives but were dropped in around the town of Sainte-Mère-Église.

Gen. Eisenhower speaking with 1st Lt. Wallace C. Strobel and men of Company E 502nd PIR on June 5. The placard around Strobel's neck indicates he is the jumpmaster for chalk 23.

Gen. Eisenhower speaking with 1st Lt. Wallace C. Strobel and men of Company E 502nd PIR on June 5. The placard around Strobel’s neck indicates he is the jumpmaster for chalk 23.

The American parachute operations did not get off to the best of starts – On Albany, the first wave, an incredibly large number of paratroopers of the 101st didn’t make their drop zones, either due to pilot error and jumping into the wrong drop zones or flak disrupting the jump pattern. The artillery failed to arrive at all, with all but one parachute howitzer being lost.  Some of the Paratroopers from Albany had jumped so far to the east they linked up with the 82nd Airborne rather than their own men! Boston wasn’t much better, with the 82nd scattering their troops all over the place, including depositing one on the spire of the church! A parachute with dummy paratrooper still hangs there to this day in tribute to this.

Paratrooper om Sainte-Mere-Eglise

A dummy Paratrooper on Sainte-Mere-Eglise church spire, in memory of the American paratrooper who got stuck there for real in 1944.

The glider borne operations were a little more successful, with missions ‘Chicago’ and ‘Detroit’ landing their troops almost without loss on their designated drop zones. Only 8 passengers of these gliders were confirmed killed; one of them being the assistant divisional commander. Carrying heavier weapons, these gliders were instrumental to making up the loss of the parachute artillery lost in the parachute landings.

Allied glider that crash-landed during the early stages of the invasion of France, near Hiesville. 6 June 1944

Allied glider that crash-landed during the early stages of the invasion of France, near Hiesville. 6 June 1944

Despite these shortcomings, the landings did succeed in disrupting the Germans behind the beaches, with the scattered nature of the American drops and the bocage terrain conspiring to confound and confuse German efforts to effective respond to the landings.  The casualties for the airborne divisions were surprisingly light considering the fragmented drops, and stand at 1,240 for the 101st Airborne Division and 1,259 for the 82nd Airborne.

Next Week: Operation Tonga