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German Reaction To The Airborne Landings

Discussion in 'Pegasus Bridge' started by Jim, Mar 5, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    General Leutnant Wilhelm Richter, commander of the German 716th Infantry Division, received news of the Allied airborne landings at around 0120hrs. He learned that some of his units were in action against British paratroops in several places east of the River Orne. He also heard that the Orne bridges at Benouville had been captured intact. He quickly contacted the commander of 21st Panzer Division, General Major Edgar Feuchtinger, at his headquarters at St Pierre sur Dives and ordered him to get his nearest units to attack the landings. By 0200hrs, the large scale of the Allied operations became apparent and it was clear that it would take a major counter-attack to deal with them. Richter asked Feuchtinger to bring forward the whole of his armoured division to clear the area east of the Orne of British paratroopers.
    Feuchtinger hesitated: whilst it was true that his division came under the 716th Division as a result of the attack made against that division, he was also aware that the 21st Panzers were a component part of the German High Command's (OKW) armoured reserve. To support the coast defence division with localised units was one thing, but to release the whole of his armoured division against what might still prove to be a diversionary raid, was something more serious and would have to be confirmed by a higher authority. This approval was very slow in coming, for all the way up and down the chain of command from Feuchtinger to OKW, delay and indecision seemed to dominate. Nobody could agree if the situation warranted the release of the armoured reserves. Was the British paratrooper’s part of an invasion or just a diversion? It took almost 12 hours before anyone could decide. In the meantime, those troops in the area of the landings would have to deal with the invaders unaided.
    Closer to the Orne, way down the chain of command, other German officers were reacting more positively. The men of Richter's 736th Regiment had units in action to counter the landings that were taking place amongst them. The British had also descended close to villages where some of Feuchtinger's Panzer units were garrisoned. These units were in contact with the British not because they had been ordered into action, but because the British paratroopers had landed virtually on top of them. In the southern part of the landing zones, east of the Orne, companies from III Battalion, 125th Panzer grenadiers, part of 21st Panzer Division, were grouped around
    21st Panzer Division, were grouped around Troarn, Sannerville and Colombelles. These units went into action immediately. In the north, especially near Bavent and Sallenelles, where companies of the 642nd East Battalion, who were attached to 736th Infantry Regiment, and these companies formed the bulk of the troops countering the landing on LZ 'V'. At Merville and on the coast at Franceville-Plage, a company from III Battalion, 736th Regiment and one from the 642nd East Battalion found themselves responding to the attack of Lt Col Otway and his 9th Battalion.
    All of these German units were in the area at the time of the airborne landings, and they were simply reacting to an enemy who had landed among them. The first counter-attack by units outside the area came from a hastily assembled force put together under Gen Richter's orders. He knew that the main objective of such a counter-attack had to be the recapture of the Benouville bridges. The closest units on the western side of the Orne were elements of Feuchtinger's 11 Battalion 192nd Panzer grenadiers at Cairon. This battalion moved off towards Benouville just after 0200hrs under the command of Major Zippe, who was ordered to retake the bridges, cross over the Orne and attack the British from the west. To assist it, from the north, Richter sent his 1st Panzerjager Company together with guns from the 989th Heavy Artillery Battalion.
    The first of Maj Zippe's units into action was the 8th Heavy Company under Leutnant Braats, with its three self-propelled 75mm guns, a 20mm flak troop on armoured carriers and a troop of mortars. They attacked down the road from Caen at around 0330hrs and met Pine Coffin's two companies on the outskirts of Benouville. The paratroopers defended doggedly, blunting the attack. A and C Companies of the 7th Parachute Battalion were forced back into Benouville in the process, but their perimeter held. The Germans were incapable of penetrating this defensive ring without armour. The Panzer grenadiers therefore dug themselves in and spent the remainder of the night making localised assaults and pounding the area with machine gun and mortar fire, waiting for the tanks to arrive. Occasional sorties made against the paratroopers' lines came close to a breakthrough, but the 7th Battalion was determined that it would not be moved. Through the night and throughout most of the following day, Pine Coffin's men held on to this vital bridgehead on the eastern side of the Orne.

    This picture was labelled “troops looking for Allied paratroopers” and probably shows men from German 716th Division trying to locate scattered individuals from Gen Gale's British 6th Airborne Division near the River Dives.

    [​IMG]

    The Panzer grenadiers of Feuchtinger's division also attacked on the eastern side of the Orne. Those units of 125th Panzergrenadier Regiment who were close to the landings were engaged in the middle of the night, but the main counter-attack came later in the morning. The 12th and 13th Parachute Battalions, who were holding the south-western flank of the lodgement from the River Orne to Herouvillete, were attacked by German infantry and self-propelled guns from both battalions of the 125th Panzer grenadiers. The British had very good defensive positions on a reverse slope, well concealed from the enemy with about 1,000yds of open ground in front, forcing any German attack to cross the crest and expose itself to the waiting paras below.
    Successive counter-attacks were beaten off by the paratroopers, using their six 6-pdr and three 17-pdr anti-tank guns, together with some of the division's light artillery. Although this fighting around Ranville and Herouvillete was often fierce and the enemy did force his way close to the British lines, Gen Gale was never seriously worried about the situation in this sector.
    With the dawn of D-Day and with landing-craft closing inexorably on the invasion beaches, Gen Gale could feel pleased with the performance of his division. The southern flank was secured by Poett's 12th and 13th Battalions; Lt Col Pearson's 8th Battalion was ensconced on the ridge within Bavent Wood; the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion held the eastern stop line through Le Mesnil; Otway's 9th Battalion held the high ground around Le Plein; and Lt Col Pine Coffin's 7th Battalion held the perimeter around the Caen Canal bridges through Benouville and Le Port. Although this last sector was the most precarious, the situation was difficult but not critical. It now remained for Maj Gen Gale and his paratroopers to hold out until the troops landing on Sword Beach came to their relief.
     
  2. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

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    Great stuff, the occupiers were caught napping and it took them a long, long time to wake up. Too long !
    Still it's amazing - the nerve and ability of the British Airborne to achieve their objectives and hold out armed only with what they brought with them.
    Just to add I would love to see how they got the 17 pounder anti-tank guns parachuted in there....
    [​IMG]
    :eek:i:
     
  3. Cabel1960

    Cabel1960 recruit

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    There was some great inovations during this war, and dropping in these big guns were in the top ten i am sure. The Germans were as much afraid of our parachutists as we were of theirs, as i think it was a mutual thing with each side showing the same respect for these units. Would hate to think they wee in my back yard at the moment.. :cheers:
     
  4. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

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    Aye good points mate, & well made.
    I reckon some of the French would be helping the Airborne out aswell, but not many would have a Howitzer stashed out back in readiness for D-Day I suppose... :D

    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    VV
    :tcom: ​

    Definitely top 10 !
    : )
     
  5. brianw

    brianw Member

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    The men of the Parachute Regiment who successfully took and held the Pegasus Bridge over the Orne canal didn’t parachute in but they arrived silently in their Horsa gliders.

    The Horsa was a formidable flying machine, considering that without an engine it was little more than a flying railway goods truck with wings, but it could carry quite a load including medium guns, ammunition, motor cycles as well as fully equipped troops into action.

    I don’t think there is a paratrooper alive who would consider jumping with a 17 pound anti-tank gun strapped to his back or slung below hanging from his webbing.

    Those weapons more than likely came in by glider.
     

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