The battle around La Fière Bridge
When the main Airborne force landed around midnight Robert Murphey's job as a pathfinder was done. He had marked the way for the others and now he stayed behind on the dropzone and helped gathering the supply-bundles that had landed with the paratroopers. At first light, which must have been around eight or eight-thirty Murphey's platoonleader 1st Lt. Lightchester (commander of the 1st Pathfinder Bn.) told him to go look for Lt. John J (Red Dog) Dolan. Lt. Dolan was the commander of A Co. at that time. This company's goal was to take and hold the La Fière Bridge.
The La Fiere bridge is located just west of Ste. Mere d'Eglise, the primary target of the 82nd Airborne Division. The bridge runs across the small river the Merderet. Holding the bridge ment holding the western entrance of ste. Mere d'Eglise.
This city was so important because it was the crossing of the road from Carentan to Cherbourg and the road running from the west side of the peninsula to the beach that was code-named Utah Beach. If the Germans wanted to launch a full scale counterattack on the men coming in on the beaches from the sea, then they certainly had to bypass ste. Mere d'Eglise at La Fière Bridge. A large German counterattack in the first hours of the invasion could endanger the whole operation.
When Murphey arrived at the bridge, a defense-line had already been established. The paratroopers had pulled a German truck onto the bridge, to prevent any vehicles from passing. Anti-tank mines were laid in front of the truck to add to the roadblock.
The Germans had flooded the grasslands, prior to the invasion and the road alone was the sticking out above the water, because it was on a dike. Parachutes and supply-bundles could be see floating in the water and it was obvious that paratroopers had drowned in these fields on landing. The paratroopers had no choice then to dig in on the sides of the road, and even their they could dig very deep without getting water in their foxholes.
The artillery support that the defenders had was only one 57mm canon that had been flown in by glider. Murphey was not the only soldier joining the men from A Co. at that time. A group of soldiers from the 508th had been trapped in Coccagny during the night and had now gotten away and pulled back across the bridge.
Just as the men from the 508th had crossed the bridge, German 88th' s were zeroing in on the bridge. These shells were particularly feared by the Americans because you couldn't hear them coming in. Mortar shells and rockets also started to land within the American defense-line.
Three German tanks advanced towards the bridge as soon as the shelling had stopped. It were French Renault tanks which the Germans had captured during their drive into France in 1940. Although not very modern they still posed a serious threat for the weakly armed Airborne soldiers. The infantry followed the tanks in their advance, using the tanks as cover.
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