World War II Day by Day World War II was the single most devastating and horrific event in the history of the world, causing the death of some 70 million people, reshaping the political map of the twentieth century and ushering in a new era of world history. Every day The Daily Chronicles brings you a new story from the annals of World War II with a vision to preserve the memory of those who suffered in the greatest military conflict the world has ever seen.


Carentan, Cotentin Peninsula, France June 13, 1944

Late Monday, June 5, 1944, the largest amphib­ious inva­sion in his­tory was set to launch. The next day, June 6, D-Day, three Allied armies began depo­siting their pre­cious cargo of men and equip­ment on five Nor­mandy beaches and in mul­tiple aerial drop zones behind them. By evening the first-day wave of 156,000 U.S., British, and Cana­dian infan­try and air­borne troops, backed by 5,000 ships and landing craft and 11,000 air­craft, had taken pos­ses­sion of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches. These five inva­sion beaches were the code­names for nearly 60 miles of coast­line on the Coten­tin Penin­sula in North­western France. Facing the inva­ders were 80,000 Wehr­macht defenders, mostly German troops with a smat­tering of Ost­troopen “volun­teers” (Polish and Russian former POWs in German uniforms).

Among the priorities of Operation Overlord in the week Amer­i­can forces slapped down pay­ments on their Utah and Omaha beach pro­per­ties were these: (1) merge the two U.S. lodg­ments, (2) destroy enemy forces and lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion across the paths from the shore­line to the interior, and (3) pre­vent the arri­val of enemy rein­force­ments intent on pushing them off their beach­heads. Caren­tan, a cross­roads town (four inter­secting high­ways, a canal and river, and a rail­road station) of 4,000 resi­dents some 10 miles south of Utah Beach and 30 miles south­east of the stra­te­gic ocean port of Cher­bourg, was a signif­i­cant imped­i­ment to achieving U.S. objec­tives. The town was gar­ri­soned by two bat­tal­ions of German para­troopers of the crack 6th Fall­schirm­jaeger Regi­ment (3,450 men, average age 17½) along with an assort­ment of infan­try, air­borne, and tank bat­tal­ions belonging to the 91st Infan­try Divi­sion. Tasked with removing the Caren­tan obsta­cle after securing safe exit points from Utah Beach was Maj. Gen. Max­well Taylor’s 101st Air­borne Divi­sion (“Screaming Eagles”), which had para­chuted into D‑Day’s inky blackness near Carentan.

Legendary Field Marshal Erwin Rom­mel, since Janu­ary 15, 1944, in charge of Wehr­macht for­ma­tions in North­western France, was worried. Should Caren­tan fall to the invaders, Cher­bourg harbor and the entire Coten­tin Penin­sula would be cut off from the rest of German-occupied France. The field marshal correctly assumed the Caren­tan gar­ri­son must be at the top of the list of U.S. targets after the 101st Air­borne’s para­chute and infan­try glider regi­ments had consol­i­dated their scat­tered forces around the French town on June 9. Rom­mel there­fore instructed 37-year-old gar­ri­son com­man­der Major Fried­rich von der Heydte, who had served with him in North Africa two years before, to defend Carentan “to the last man.”

The Battle of Carentan began just after mid­night on June 10, 1944. It ended on this date, June 13, when German defenders with­drew late in the after­noon following a mauling by Amer­i­can tanks, air­craft, and infan­try on the out­skirts of town (Battle of Bloody Gulch). The pre­vious day, June 12, two regi­ments of the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion had secured the approaches to Carentan, as well as the town itself, after 48 hours of fierce, house-to-house, touch-and-go combat. The rem­nants of the German gar­ri­son, having evac­u­ated the town during the night of June 11/12, counter­attacked on June 13, resupplied and aug­mented by a divi­sion of SS Panzer­grena­diers. They were beaten off by strafing P‑47 Thunder­bolt dive-bombers, anti­tank guns, a third para­chute infan­try regi­ment of the 101st Air­borne, and the timely arrival of tanks from the Nor­mandy beaches. Together they inflicted a staggering loss of 500 sol­diers on the Wehr­macht. It can­not be over­stated that the U.S. vic­tory at Caren­tan con­trib­uted to the suc­cess of Operation Overlord. The vic­tory closed the gap between the Utah and Omaha beach­heads, the last gap in the five D‑Day beaches, and it greatly reduced the danger of the enemy pushing the Western Allies from their hard-won French foothold.

Deadly Paratrooper Brawl at Carentan, June 10–13, 1945

Battle of Carentan: Men from 101st Airborne display captured German flagBattle of Carentan: 101st Airborne paratroopers walk Carentan street, mid-June 1944

Left: Two officers of the 101st Airborne Division proudly display a cap­tured German flag on June 12, 1944, the day the shat­tered enemy with­drew from Caren­tan. Although the town it­self was lib­er­ated, the enemy still held the out­skirts and most of the Coten­tin Penin­sula. Cher­bourg, for in­stance, the chief port city at the tip of the penin­sula, did not fall to the Allies until 20 days after D‑Day. Its cap­ture was tem­pered by the dis­covery that the deep-water harbor on the English Chan­nel, so cri­ti­cal to sus­tain and rein­force Allied forces in Nor­mandy, had been sys­tem­at­ically wrecked by German engi­neers starting the day after D‑Day, June 7. The main harbor basins were not made service­able until Septem­ber 21, causing a log­jam of war maté­riel and vehi­cles, mixed with a short­age of fuel, that forced the Allied advance east­ward across France to sputter out near the German fron­tier. The effi­cient demo­li­tion of Cher­bourg har­bor bought the Third Reich three extra months before Germany’s apocalyptic collapse in April and May 1945.

Right: Men from the 101st Airborne Division move through Caren­tan after the Germans were expelled from the town and its approaches on June 14, 1944, in nearly a week of non­stop fighting. Cap­ture of Caren­tan’s key high­ways and rail line not only linked up Amer­i­can forces at Utah and Omaha beaches, but because of Caren­tan’s posi­tion at the base of the Coten­tin Penin­sula it also led the way for U.S. advances on the stra­te­gic harbor of Cher­bourg. Mopping-up oper­a­tions on near­by Cap de la Hague were com­pleted by July 1, which was also the last day the Germans could conceiv­ably have reversed their sagging fortunes in Normandy.

Battle of Carentan: Residents welcome liberatorsBattle of Carentan: Residents mourn U.S. dead

Left: Both the Allies and the Germans realized the impor­tance of Caren­tan: for Amer­i­cans, Caren­tan was a link between their landing beaches at Utah and Omaha, pos­ses­sion of which would firm up the Allies’ defen­sive line in Nor­mandy. Also, Caren­tan provided a spring­board for fur­ther attacks deeper into German-occupied France. For Germans, holding Caren­tan would, in view of the recent Nor­mandy landings, be the first step toward driving a wedge between the two U.S. inva­sion beaches, a step that would severely dis­rupt and possi­bly even push back the advancing Allied inva­ders. In this photo, taken two days after bitter fighting for pos­ses­sion of Caren­tan, the French Tri­color floats high above the main street. Caren­tan was the first signif­i­cant French town to be liber­ated by the Amer­i­cans. Grate­ful resi­dents wave their hands in wel­come and appre­ci­a­tion as soldiers of the U.S. VII Corps, which landed at Utah Beach, drive past.

Right: Two residents lay flowers on the corpses of Amer­i­can para­troopers. By one esti­mate, the Battle of Caren­tan cost Amer­i­cans at least 400 dead and hun­dreds more wounded and missing. The number of German dead, wounded, and missing is not pre­cisely known. According to various con­tra­dic­tory sources German dead at Caren­tan ranged from 500 to 800. During the last day of com­bat, June 13, 1944, dubbed the Battle of Bloody Gulch, U.S. casual­ties were 32 killed and 73 wounded, while German casual­ties were 43 killed and over twice that wounded. During the 85‑day Battle of Nor­mandy (June 6 to August 30, 1944), the Allies suffered 226,386 casual­ties and the Germans between 288,695 and 530,000. French civil­ian deaths were 25,000 to 39,000 when the pre-­invasion bombing and the invas­ion itself are com­bined. During one 38‑day-stretch the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion suffered 868 killed (about half occurring at Caren­tan), 2,303 wounded, and 665 missing in action.

Excellent Documentary on the 101st Airborne Division’s Attack on Carentan, June 10–13, 1944