The Drop Zone Virtual Museum........What's New

Chef-du-Pont

by Roy Creek, 507th PIR

Through the hedgerows we could hear voices. I couldn’t tell if they were German or American voices. "Flash" had been designated as our password. From behind a tree came a challenge - Flash! The immediate reply was "Flash, Hell! This is Col. Maloney the Executive Officer of the Regiment." Instantly we knew we were among friends.

Troopers kept drifting in and our force was growing. Men came from all units of the 82nd airborne Division and some from the 101st Airborne. Nothing of consequence happened and soon it was dawn. We know nothing of what had happened to anyone outside our own small group. There was not tactical unity, no supporting weapons, just a group of invaders who were wondering what had happened to all of their thorough planning. Just before daybreak, the first gliders began to come in. One landed in a flooded area about 150 yards from where we had our perimeter set up. As the men started to come out of the glider, enemy machine gunfire opened up from the hedgerow on the other side. Men coming out of the glider were being hit. Fire was placed in the general vicinity of the machine gun and this enabled a few men to make the hedgerow behind which we had cover.

About 0900 hours, Lt. Col. Ostberg, Commander 1st Battalion 507 Parachute Infantry Regiment, returned from the command post of Gen. Gavin, Assistant Division Commander, and informed us that General Gavin was moving toward La Fiere and that we were to follow. This meant fording the flooded area that we had already struggled through earlier in the day. We pulled out of our position, leaving the wounded marked and as comfortable as possible and started across the marsh. As we waded in water sometimes chest deep, we were fired on by snipers, who appeared to be firing from long range because of the inaccuracy of their fire. But one couldn’t help being concerned about the shots splashing water in his face. All that could be done was to keep on walking and hoping.

We made it to the other side without mishap. We marched south until we reached high ground overlooking the La Fiere Bridge. When we arrived, Gen. Gavin told us we should proceed south along the railroad to Chef-du-Pont where we were to seize the town and bridge across the Merderet west of the center of town. A few men who had been able to get some automatic weapons from some of the bundles dropped as we jumped, were attached for this mission and under the command of Col. Ostberg, proceeded down the railroad toward Chef-du-Pont. There were about 100 men altogether equipped only with what they could carry. Rifles, submachine guns, three machine guns and grenades of various types including the British gammon grenade which packed a terrific wallop. At about 1000 6 June Col. Ostberg and his force, comprised of men of all units of the 507th and some from the 508th had reached the railroad station of Chef-du-Pont without any opposition. The railroad station was in the center of town and the small but important bridge was a short distance southwest. A squad was sent to clear the section of town northeast of the station, which they did without incident. The remainder of the force led by Col. Ostberg started to race through the part of the town leading to the bridge. This group was fired upon from several buildings simultaneously. Four of the men were hit and the remainder was forced to hold until the town could be systematically cleared. This took about two hours. By that time, most of the Germans had withdrawn ahead of us, apparently headed for the bridge. Speed seemed to be the answer. We knew the bridge must be taken before the Germans could organize their defense so we made a semi-organized dash for it. We were too late. Two officers reached the bridge and were both shot - one toppling off the bridge and into the water. The other officer falling on the eastern approach. The officer toppling into the river was Col. Ostberg. He was rescued shortly afterward by two soldiers of the 507 and lived to fight again. The other officer was dead. A short time later, Col. Maloney arrived with about 75 more men and we set about dislodging the stubborn enemy.

The railroad split the town and the bridge lay to the south and west of the railroad station. Houses lined both sides of the road leading to the bridge. A short distance from the bridge on the left side of the road leading to the bridge was a large creamery which was two stories high and afforded good observation from an upstairs window. South of the creamery and on three sides of the bridge, there were obstacles, flooded areas. For practical purposes, the only approach to the bridge was the one we had chosen through Chef-du-Pont. The approaches from the west were causeways, long and straight and completely flooded on both sides. Germans were dug in on the shoulders on both sides of the road occupying foxholes dispersed at intervals of about ten yards for a long stretch leading to the bridge and beyond. No one could hope to attack successfully or withdraw along these causeways without a preponderance of supporting fires. Something we did not have. Nevertheless, we were on the outskirts of Chef-du-Pont with 175 men. What are we waiting for? Let’s take the bridge. Two attempts to storm the bridge proved unsuccessful. There had to be a better way. We did succeed in clearing the eastern side of the bridge, however, by over running the positions along the shoulders of the road.

Our own position along the edge of the road east of the bridge had become almost untenable because rifle and direct artillery fire coming from our right flank. Just as it was beginning to look as though we might have a stalemate, Col. Maloney was called back to La Fiere with all men available, leaving only about 34 men at Chef-du-Pont. Concurrent with his departure three things happened:

One, direct artillery fire on our positions around the creamery reduced our strength to 20 men; two, an observation point in the creamery noted what was estimated to be a company of Germans movind around to our left rear. This threat never materialized for they by-passed us in route to Ste. Mere Eglise where, though not known to us at the time, a battle was being waged by elements of the 505th for that important objective; three, an officer delivered a message from Gen. Gavin, "hold at all costs." It was pretty obvious that it couldn’t cost much more, but at the same time, it was doubtful we could hold something we didn’t have. Reinforcements were requested, and as from heaven, C-47s began to appear, dropping bundles of weapons and ammunition. One bundle of 60mm mortar ammunition dropped right in our laps. Within 30 minutes, the officer who had previously delivered the "hold at all costs" message returned with 100 men and a 57mm gun which was pulled into position on our side of the bridge. We started firing at the enemy field piece. I’m sure we didn’t hit it, but we stopped the firing and that is what we had to do in order to survive.

At the beginning of this period of heavy shelling, I found myself exposed with no place to go. I spotted a very small brick sentry house just short of the bridge on our side. I made a dash for it and went inside and found a still burning enemy soldier, victim of a white phosphorous grenade, which apparently had been tossed in on him during earlier fighting. The house only had room for one man standing. So it became crowded with my arrival and the other guy in there wasn’t going anywhere. This coupled with the fact that the smoke and stench from the burning man caused me to make a quick decision that I would rather take my chances out in the open than risk the consequences of smoke inhalation and besides I reasoned that this lone house was surely an aiming point for the artillery. With our reinforcements, strong positions were organized to our rear and along the flooded area on either side of the road and east of the bridge. The defenses were tied in with natural obstacles on three sides of us. We opened fire with every weapon we could get into position, including our 60mm mortar. On a prearranged signal, all fires lifted and ten men and one officer stormed the bridge and went into position on the western approach to guard the causeway. Five Germans made a run for it down the deathtrap causeway and were immediately shot down. That did it. The battle was over. The bridge was ours and we knew we could hold it. Bust as with all victories in war, we shared a let down feeling. We knew it was still a long way to Berlin. We began to organize and improve our position and tended to such pressing things as first aid to wounded, 25 in number who could not be evacuated because of a lack of any place to evacuate them. We gathered the bodies of the dead, Americans and Germans, and covered them with parachutes. D-DAY was almost over and it had gone fast and in a little while, it would be D+1. When would the beach forces come? They should have already done so. Maybe the whole invasion had failed. After all, we knew nothing of the situation except as it existed in Chef-du-Pont and Chef-du-Pont is a very small town.

At 2400 hours, our fears were dispelled. Reconnaissance elements of the 4th Infantry Division wheeled into our creamery yard complete with a few rations that they shared with us. As we dug in, and made ourselves comfortable for a turn at short naps, the smell of death, which was to be with us for a long time to come, had begun to permeate the night air. It was D+1 in Normandy. As I sat pondering the day’s events, having been in command subsequent to Col. Ostberg’s injury, I reflected upon the details of the fighting and the bravery of every man participating in it. Some had lost their lives, some others had been seriously wounded and lay inside the creamery, perhaps wondering if they would ever be evacuated. We had done some things badly, but overall with a hodgepodge of troops from several units who had never trained together as a unit, didn’t even know one another, and were engaged in their first combat, we had done okay. We captured our bridge and held it.* We knew we faced D+1 with confidence and anticipation.

Sources:

This account was written by Roy Creek shortly after WWII

Pat O’Donnell has conducted several interviews with Col. Creek and they will be placed on the Drop Zone shortly to suppliment this narrative.

*Editor’s note: The other side of the causeway was seized by elements of the 508.

 


Send Personal Accounts and Feedback to: historian@thedropzone.org
Europe | Pacific | Training | Axis | | Scrapbooks | What's New | Press
1999 Patrick O'Donnell, All Rights Reserved