US Army Fights Across Douve River Toward Carentan

Leading the attack of the 502nd, the 3rd Battalion (3rd/502nd PIR) under Lt Col.

Robert G. Cole found Bridge No. 2 (the Douve bridge) unrepaired and the engineers assigned to the task pinned down by fire from an 88mm gun. Cole sent his S-2, 1st Lt. Ralph B. Gehauf, with a patrol across the river in a small boat. They made their way to the last bridge, which they found blocked by a Belgian gate. The patrol was able to push the obstacle aside only 18 inches, just enough for one soldier at a time to negotiate. The patrol soon came under flare illumination, mortar, and machine gun fire and eventually returned at 05:30, when the attack was postponed. Most of the fire appeared to be coming from a large farmhouse (49°18′44.6″N 1°15′37.2″W) and hedgerow on higher ground 250 yards to the right of the highway beyond Bridge No. 4.

At 01:45 1st/327th GIR began crossing the footbridges over the lower Douve, and by 06:00, under cover of artillery fire, the entire regiment was across. It captured Brévands and began the three-mile (5 km) movement south and west. Company A of the 401st GIR, accompanied by the Division Assistant G-3, left the column and marched east toward Auville-sur-le-Vey to link up with the U.S. 29th Infantry Division. The 327th did not encounter serious opposition until it approached the bridges spanning the Vire-Taute Canal east of Carentan at 18:00. It went into the attack with two battalions on line and by midnight held the east bank.

The Douve bridge was still not repaired when 3rd/502d PIR returned at noon. The paratroopers used engineer materials at hand to improvise a footbridge and began their attack shortly after 13:00. Moving single file down the causeway and advancing by crouching and crawling, the point of the 400-man battalion reached Bridge No. 4 at about 16:00, with most of the unit past Bridge No. 3. Under artillery and mortar fire, and then sniper and machine gun fire as they got within range, casualties among the 3rd/502nd PIR became heavy. Nightfall ended the advance but not the casualties, when an attack at 23:30 by two low-flying German Ju 87 Stukas strafing the causeway knocked I Company completely out of the battle. The severe casualties suffered by the 3rd/502d PIR, estimated at 67% of the original force, resulted in the nickname "Purple Heart Lane" applied to that portion of the Carentan-Sainte-Mère-Église highway.

The plan of the 101st Division provided for two crossings of the Douve. The left wing, starting at 0100 on 10 June, was to cross in the vicinity of Brevands; part of this force was to join V Corps near the Vire River bridge southwest of Isigny, while the main force was to drive southwest to seize Carentan. The right wing was to cross the causeway northwest of Carentan, bypass Carentan, and seize Hill 30, southwest of the city. Capture of Hill 30 would put the Americans astride the principal German escape route from Carentan, as movement to the south and east was hindered by the Vire-Taute Canal and extensive swampland. As the battle for Carentan developed, the left and right wings of the division were coordinated to form a ring about the town, and within this ring a pincers closed in on the town itself.