Brécourt Manor: Baptism by fire

Chris Riley

In the early hours of the morning of the 6th of June, men from the 101st and 82 Airborne divisions were dropped on the Cotentin Peninsula.

In a daring attempt to seize the important beach causeways and key towns to link the would-be beachheads together. Airborne combat was a brand-new concept used by both sides during the war but for the 101st, Normandy would be their first taste of battle. Although the plans for D-Day had been rehearsed many times and every man had trained for several years, technical issues and enemy flak fire, meant many of the paratroopers missed their designated drop zones, spending the hours and days following D-Day trying to find their units, fighting in makeshift groups, and doing all they could to support the landings. Lt. Richard Winters, Executive Officer of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division had found himself as defacto commander of his Company and after fighting through the night, at around 8:30 am, he and around a dozen other paratroopers were ordered to “take care” of an artillery battery firing on Utah Beach at Brécourt Manor near Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. With almost no reconnaissance, Winters set out to destroy the guns expected to be causing serious problems at Utah. Although the Allied invasion had caught the German troops in Normandy by surprise, the well-oiled military machine that had conquered Europe was more than able to repel the Allies, pushing them back into the sea from which they came.
Brécourt Manor: Baptism by fire
Author Chris at Braecourt Manor

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With the enemy number still unknown, Winters divided his men into two groups, attacking the German artillery positions with two machine gun squads covering their advance.

Winters moved directly onto the first gun with Lt Buck Compton, Sgt. Bill Guarnere and Pvt. Don Malarkey moving to the enemy machine gun position which they neutralised with grenades, allowing them to provide covering fire for the rest of Easy company moving through the trenches. The fighting was intense and several men were wounded before reinforcements from Dog Company arrived to help with the final gun that remained operational. Although the battery was believed to house four 88mm guns, Winters and his men found four 105mm guns which they destroyed with TNT whilst also finding maps containing the location of every German artillery piece in the area, saving countless lives. Although the action at Brécourt was fierce and saw multiple men receive medals, Easy Company and the rest of the 101st were unable to rest. Although all five of the beaches stormed on the 6th had been secured, the breakout into Normandy had started to slow forcing Winters’ unit and many others like it into further action with no signs of relief. Richard Winters and the 101st Airborne would move on and secure the town of Carentan, allowing for the men from both Utah and Omaha to link up, meaning further gains would be easier to come by but the war would not be kind to the ‘Screaming Eagles’. After fighting through Normandy, they would play a key role in Operation Market Garden, a failed attempt to access Germany through Holland before fighting perhaps their toughest fight of the war, around the town of Bastone during the Battle of the Bulge before moving on to Germany where their war would eventually come to an end in 1945. The attack on Brécourt Manor is still considered a near-perfect example of small-unit tactics and the actions of Lt. Winters’ and the men of Easy Company saved countless lives on Utah. Winters was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with many of his men received the bronze or silver star medal for their bravery and faultless execution.
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Brécourt Manor: Baptism by fire

Chris Riley

Chris is a Sheffield based historian with a keen interest in medieval Queenship, the Crusades and the Hundred Years’ War. Chris is a keen writer and speaker who strives to make history both accessible and fun for all!
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