|La Fiere Bridge: D-Day June 6, 1944|
|Around 1:00 a.m. on June 6, 1944, Marcus Heim
jumped out of a C-47 transport plane over Normandy, France. Heim was part of A Company,
505, their specific objective was to seize and hold the La Fiere Bridge over the Merderet
River until reinforcements from the amphibious portion of the Allied invasion arrived.
Enclosed are Marcus Heims recollections of June 6. That day, their small four-man team set up a roadblock next to the La Fiere Bridge and was responsible for repelling several powerful German counter attacks.
|I landed about twenty-five feet from a road and before
I could get my rifle assembled, I heard a motorcycle approaching. I remained still as I
did not have time to assemble my rifle, and watched two German soldiers pass by. After
they passed and I had my rifle together I found other paratroopers and our equipment
bundle and set off for the bridge over the Merderet River. We were to hold the bridge
until the soldiers who landed on the beach arrived later that day, but it was three days
before they reached our position.
As you stand at the La Fiere Bridge looking in the direction of Ste Mere- Eglise, the Manor House is on the right and was the living quarters. There were several buildings, one a large barn, which was close to the Merderet River. The Germans had occupied the Manor House and were driven out by "A" Company, 505, after heavy fighting. As you pass the Manor House toward Ste Mere-Eglise, the road goes up hill and curves to the left. Across from the Manor House there was a pathway which was about four feet wide and now is a causeway was narrow and had brush and trees on each side, some hung over the causeway. The fields were completely flooded right up to the causeway. The town on Cauquigny was about 800 to 900 yards from the bridge, and it was in German hands. The causeway curved to the right about 60 or 65 yards from the bridge.
When we arrived at the bridge, men were placed down the pathway to the right and to the left of the Manor House and out buildings. The four bazooka men included: Lenold Peterson, and myself, John Bolderson and Gordon Pryne. Peterson and I took up positions on the Manor House side facing Cauquigny, below the driveway. There was a concrete telephone pole just in front of us and we dug in behind it. We knew that when the Germans started the attack with their tanks, we would have to get out of our foxhole and reveal our position to get a better view of the tanks. Bolderson and Pryne were on the right side of the road just below the pathway. I do not remember how many paratroopers were around us, all I saw was a machine gun set up in the Manor House yard. On the right side down the pathway a few riflemen took up positions.
There was a 57-millimeter cannon up the road in back of us along with another machine gun. We carried antitank mines and bazooka rockets from the landing area. These mines were placed across the causeway about 50 or 60 feet on the other side of the bridge. There was a broken down German truck by the Manor House, which we pushed and dragged across the bridge and placed it across the causeway. All that afternoon the Germans kept shelling our position, and the rumor was that the Germans were going to counter attack. Around 5:00 in the afternoon the Germans started the attack. Two tanks with infantry on each side and in the rear following them was a third tank with more infantry following it. As the lead tank started around the curve in the road the tank commander stood up in the turret to take a look and from our left the machine gun let loose a burst and killed the commander. At the same time the bazookas, 57 millimeter and everything else we had were firing at the Germans and they in turn were shooting at us with cannons, mortars, machine guns and rifle fire. Lenold Peterson and I (the loader), in the forward position got out of the foxhole and stood behind the telephone pole so we could get a better shot at the tanks. We had to hold our fire until the last minute because some of the tree branches along the causeway were blocking our view. The first tank was hit and started to turn sideways and at the same time was swinging the turret around and firing at us. We had just moved forward around the cement telephone pole when a German shell hit it and we hat to jump out of the way to avoid being hit as it was falling. I was hoping that Bolderson and Pryne were also firing at the tanks for with all that was happening in front of us there was not time to look around to see what others were doing. We kept firing at the first tank until it was put out of action and on fire. The second tank came up and pushed the first tank out of the way. We moved forward toward the second tank and fired at it as fast as I could load the rockets in the bazooka. We kept firing at the second tank and we hit it in the turret where it is connected to the body, also in the track and with another hit it also went up in flames. Peterson and I were almost out of rockets, and the third tank was still moving. Peterson asked me to go back across the road and see if Bolderson had any extra rockets. I ran across the road and with all the crossfire I still find it hard to believe I made it to the other side in one piece. When I got to the other side I found one dead soldier and Bolderson and Pryne were gone. Their bazooka was lying on the ground and it was damaged by what I thought were bullet holes. Not finding Bolderson or Pryne I presumed that either one or both were injured. I found the rockets they left and then had to return across the road to where I left Peterson. The Germans were still firing at us and I was lucky again, I return without being hit. Peterson and I put the new found rockets to use on the third tank. After that one was put out of action the Germans pulled back to Cauquigy and continued shelling us for the rest of the night. They also tried two other counter attacks on our position, which also failed.
During the battles, one does not have time to look around to see how others are doing. We were told that when we took up our position by the bridge that we have to hold it at all cost until the men from the beach arrived, for if the Germans broke through they would have a good chance of going all the way to the beach. Our job was to be in the forward position by the La Fiere Bridge with our bazooka to stop any German tanks from advancing over the bridge and onto Ste Mere-Eglise and the beaches. This we accomplished all the while the Germans were continuously firing everything they had at us. After I went across the road and found more rockets for the bazooka and returned, the third tank was put out of action and the Germans retreated. When the Germans pulled back, we looked around did not see anyone, we than moved back to our foxhole. Looking back up the road toward Ste Mere-Eglise, we saw that the 57-millimeter cannon and the machine gun were destroyed. Looking down the pathway across from the Manor House we could not see any of our men. We were thinking that we were all alone and that maybe we should move from here, then someone came and told us to hold our position and he would find more men to place around us for the Germans may try again to breach our lines. We found out later, of the few that were holding the bridge at this time, most were either killed or wounded. Why we were not injured or killed only the good Lord knows.
For holding their position and repelling the Germans on June 6, 1944, Heim, Peterson, Bolderson and Pryne were each awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Written by Marcus Heim
Forward by Pat ODonnell
Interview with Mr. Heim by Pat ODonnell
Regimental Unit Study 5 (Preliminary Operations Around The La Fiere Bridgehead Merderet River) by: S L A Marshall. Source of La Fiere Bridge Head Map.