Battle of Carentan, battle of, 8-13 June 1944

The small town of Carentan occupied a pivotal position between Omaha and Utah Beaches, and its capture was one of the most important American priorities in the days immediately after D-Day. Carentan was naturally protected by the swamps of the lower Taute and Vire rivers, and artificially by inundations created by German flooding. The only good road across this area ran through Carentan and on to Périers, but this single road was very easily defended. After the fall of Carentan the US 7th Corps spent nine days attempting to advance down this road before giving up.

The 101st Airborne was given the task of taking Carentan. The only available approach to the town ran along another causeway that entered the town from the north. The attack began on 8 June, but progress was very slow. It took two days to reach Carentan, but on 10 June the 101st began to surround the town. On 11 June the paratroops finally fought their way past the outer defences of the town. The beleagured defenders of the town called for supplies to be dropped from the air, but no supplies appeared. On the night of 11-12 June, under heavy American fire, the Germans abandoned Carentan.

This didn't end the battle. Rommel saw the recapture of Carentan as essential if he was to successfully defeat the Allied invasion. On 12 June he informed Keitel that he intended to move the focus of his operations west to Carentan and Montebourg, in an effort to destroy the American beachhead on the Cotentin Peninsula, and on the same day he ordered the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment to retake the town.

This counterattack took place on the morning of 13 June. The SS troops reached to within 500 yards of the town before they were defeated by the 101st Airborne with help from the US 2nd Armoured Division. Worse was to follow for the Germans, for the movement of the 17th SS had left a gap in their lines, which the US 1st Division exploited to capture Caumont.

The capture of Carentan closed the gap between the Utah and Omaha beachheads, the last gap between the D-Day landing zones. This was one of the most important moments in the battle of Normandy, for it removed any danger that the Germans might have been able to destroy the isolated Utah beach head. It also freed General Collins to begin the campaign in the Cotentin Peninsula, which lasted until the end of June and ended with the capture of Cherbourg.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (5 June 2009), Battle of Carentan, battle of, 8-13 June 1944 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_carentan.html

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