On D-Day, 1LT Dick Winters led an assault on four German 105mm artillery pieces. The guns, located at Brecourt Manor, were in the position to fire on the American troops coming ashore at Utah Beach.
The assault on the gun positions saved countless lives on the beach, was recognized as a textbook assault on a fixed position, and was used at the U.S. military academy at West Point as a case study. Winters was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.
The assault is a classic case of superb small unit tactics and leadership by Dick Winters, 2LT Buck Compton, and the NCOs.
Most of us have seen Band of Brothers. The second episode Day of Days showcased the 101st Airborne’s combat jump into Normandy at the outset of D-Day.
After gathering up men during the night, Winters led them to their assembly point, the 3rd Bn. HQs at Le Grand Chemin. However, the series shortened the events at Brecourt Manor, which took several hours.
‘Take Care of It’
Shortly after arriving at 3rd Bn. HQs, Winters was given the task to destroy the German battery, which was initially believed to be 88mm guns in position to fire on the beach. His orders were simple, “There’s fire along that hedgerow there. Take care of it.”
The troops from the 4th Infantry Division coming ashore at Utah Beach had four causeways through which they could move off the beaches. The German guns were in a position to cover Causeway #2. Several scattered units of paratroopers had come across the German position and had been forced to withdraw.
Winters left HQs at 0830 hours to conduct a reconnaissance of the objective. He discovered that the artillery battery was not 88mm guns but 105mm howitzers that were emplaced along a hedgerow that camouflaged them from view. He also discovered a trench system that ran between and connected the gun positions. The system was defended by MG42 machine gun positions. There were about 60 German troops in the objective area. Unbeknownst to Winters, on the other side of the hedgerow at Sainte Marie du Mont were units from the 6th Fallschirmjägerregiment (“6th Parachute Regiment”) and the 709th Infantry Division.
Dick Winters Leads the Assault
Winters returned to the Easy Company and assembled 12 men for the assault. He later explained what his plan was in an interview with the History Channel. “When you run into a position like that, the way to attack it is from the flank. Don’t take the whole thing on at once… get into the trench on one of the flanks, and then you can take them on one at a time.”
“That’s exactly what we did,” Winters said. “We took that first one, and then took on the balance of them. So, it took a little time but we took ‘em all out.”
The iconic Band of Brothers scene from the attack can be seen below:
Dick Winters set up two pairs of M1919 .30 caliber machine guns that would provide covering fire and support for the assault. Two more soldiers, including SGT Carwood Lipton, were positioned to lend more support. Lipton climbed a tree that afforded a perfect view of the German positions but left him dangerously exposed.
Once the American machine guns opened up on the German MG42s, three men led by Compton moved to the flank of the German position and took it out with grenades. This allowed Winters and the assault team to enter the trench. While the trenches allowed the German troops easy access to resupply the guns, they also protected Winters and the assault team from heavy machine-gun fire coming from Brecourt Manor. Instead, the machine-gun fire passed over their heads and forced them to crouch in the trenches.
Winters and the assault team took the first gun. They spiked it using TNT and captured German potato masher hand grenades. As they were prepared to move to the second gun in the trenches, Winters spotted two Germans setting up another MG42 inside the trench that would have blocked them from moving forward. He shot both of them and moved forward.
At the second gun position, Winters spotted a small radio and map room; the map pinpointed the artillery positions in the entire Cotentin Peninsula. They took the third gun but not before a machine gun burst killed PFC John Halls, who was on the 506th basketball team coached by Winters. Halls was portrayed in the miniseries as having been killed by a mine.
In his journal, Winters wrote, “John D. Halls was with me on D-Day he was killed charging for the third cannon, by an undisclosed machine gun nest. He was a good basketball player and a good soldier.” Winters’ account was confirmed by Easy Company veteran David Webster in his book Parachute Infantry.
After they took the third gun, Winters’ assault team was augmented by 2LT Ronald Spiers and men from D Company. They assaulted and took the fourth gun. Since the small group of men didn’t have the strength to assault Brecourt Manor, Winters ordered a withdrawal.
Four men were killed in action during the engagement. Halls was killed in the assault of the third gun, Warrant Officer Andrew Hill was killed when coming across the assault as he was looking for the 506th HQs. Spiers lost two men: SGT “Rusty” Houck from F Company and another paratrooper from D Company. “Popeye” Wynn from Easy Co. was shot in the buttocks during the assault.
Onwards to Brecourt Manor
After returning to 3rd Bn. HQs, Winters turned over the German map to the Regiment S-2 CPT Lewis Nixon. Nixon raced the three miles down to Utah Beach and turned it over to the higher HQs. The 4th Division was so pleased with this intelligence coup, that they turned over two of their first tanks ashore to the 506th. Those two tanks assisted in the assault on Brecourt Manor.
The commander of the 506th, Colonel Robert Sink, recommended Winters for the Medal of Honor. However, the Army foolishly decided that each division could only recommend one soldier for the Medal of Honor for actions performed during the Normandy invasion. That honor went to LTC Robert Cole who led the charge to secure four bridges.
Winters was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. “Buck” Compton, Sergeant William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, and Private First Class Gerald Lorraine were awarded the Silver Star.
The Bronze Star was awarded to:
- Sergeant Carwood Lipton
- Private Robert “Popeye” Wynn
- Private Cleveland Petty
- Private Walter Hendrix
- Private Donald Malarkey
- Private Myron N. Ranney
- Private Joseph Liebgott
- Private John Plesha
- Corporal Joe Toye
- Private First Class John D. Halls (KIA)
- Sergeant Julius “Rusty” Houck (KIA)
In his interview for History Channel Winters said with the hint of a smile, “We eliminated all of the guns firing on Causeway #2 for any troops trying to come in from the beach… they could have caused an awful lot of casualties and delayed the landings. As it was, the casualties were very, very light.”
“Of which we are very proud.”