Citizen Soldiers: 4th Infantry Division

D-Day: American

Ivy
4th Infantry Division

The ‘Ivy’ (IV being four in Roman numerals) Division was activated in 1940 as the only mechanised division in the US Army. It eventually took on the form of a regular infantry division, but still retained an aggressive and mobile doctrine.

The Ivy Division, under the command of Major General Raymond Barton, was the first US division to land in France at Utah Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944.

The Fight for Utah Beach

H-Hour 0630 hours: Following a heavy naval and aerial bombardment the first assault waves of the 8th RCT from the US 4th ‘Ivy’ Division hit the beach at Utah. The landings were timed to take advantage of low tide, exposing the German beach obstacles. First ashore were Companies B and C under Lieutenant Colonel Conrad Simmons, at the sector codenamed Tare Green, and E and F under Lieutenant Colonel Carlton MacNeeley, at Uncle Red. The Assistant Divisional Commander Brigadier-General Theodore Roosevelt, eldest son of the former US President of the same name, landed in the first wave. He would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his part in the assault that day. A few minutes after the first infantry landings, Sherman DD Tanks of the 70th Tank Battalion arrived on the beach.

Once ashore the assault troops discovered that rough seas and a strong current had pushed them some 2000 metres (1.24 miles) south of the intended landing site at les Dunes de Varraville. Luckily, this area of the beach, around La Grande Dune, was actually more lightly defended than the intended landing site. The German resistance nest in the area, WN 5, was manned by a single platoon of 919. Grenadierregiment under Leutnant Jahnke, a veteran of the Eastern Front. The preliminary bombardment had severely damaged the German defences, knocking out most of their anti-tank guns, and the US infantry and tanks quickly overwhelmed the position.

The assault troops moved inland and captured the fortified hamlet at La Madeleine, guarding the entrance to the causeway known as Exit 2. The causeway crossed marshland deliberately flooded by the Germans to bar the way inland for an invasion force. At 0900 hours troops began moving inland, some of the infantry wading through the marshes. After engineers had cleared the German minefields, four Sherman DD Tanks led the advance down the causeway. The first Sherman foundered on a demolished section of the road and a German anti-tank gun knocked out the second tank, but by 1100 hours the advance had linked up with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne who had seized the other end of the causeway.

The landings had been successful, with remarkably light casualties for the attacking Americans. On D-Day, more than 20,000 troops and 1700 vehicles along with thousands of tons of supplies were landed at Utah Beach.

With the beaches secure and the rest of the division ashore, the 4th Infantry pushed inland to link up with the 82nd Airborne Division around Sainte-Mère-Église and the 101st Airborne Division in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. Brigadier General Roosevelt greeted each regiment as it came ashore and directed it inland to their respective objectives. He did a lot of his own reconnaissance. When he found the best route of advance, he declared, ‘We’ll start the war from here!’

4th Infantry Division 
4th Infantry Division 'Ivy'

The division’s regiments moved north and west, each with their own objectives. The 22nd Infantry Regiment moved north to secure the coastline. The 12th pushed directly west toward Sainte-Mère-Église. The 8th moved southwest to Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and then turned due west. Uniquely, the assault battalions of the 8th Infantry Regiment maintained their assault company configuration during the attack inland, long after their comrades in the 29th and 1st Infantry Divisions reverted back to standard rifle companies.

All three regiments were supported by the 70th and 746th Tank Battalions, providing good firepower to the infantry as they reduced the German strongpoints in the area. The experienced 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion also reinforced the 8th and 12th Infantry Regiments as they attacked German positions around Sainte Mère Église and helped bolster the line in the event of a German counterattack.

The division called upon their 29th, 42nd, and 44th Field Artillery Battalions as well as the 65th Armored Field Artillery Battalion to help dislodge enemy troops. These batteries were situated inside the 4th’s beachhead and could reach anywhere the division attacked.

By afternoon, the division had linked up with the 101st Airborne Division and shortly thereafter they made contact with the 82nd. These two airborne divisions had played a critical part in the relatively few casualties incurred by the 4th up to this point. However, as the sun set on 6 June 1944, the Fourth’s fight was only beginning.

Utah Beach

D-Day

The 4th Infantry Moves Inland: Operation Cobra

No sooner had the troops of the 4th settled in to train their 6000 replacements, than they were ordered to get back into the fight on 19 July. More infantry was needed to help with the breakout so the 4th was sent to help the 9th and 30th Infantry Divisions wedge open the German lines so that the 2nd and 3rd and Armored Divisions could exploit through and encircle the enemy.

The battered Ivy Division was given a small 2000-yard wide portion of the line between the 9th and 30th Infantry Divisions. Their position in the centre was small, so the division only needed two of its regiments for the attack. The third, the 22nd Infantry Regiment, was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division to give the tankers some extra infantry support. The remaining regiments, the 8th and 12th, would attack in column with the 8th leading the way.

To ensure the mission’s success, the 8th Infantry Regiment was heavily reinforced. Normally regiments had a single tank company and perhaps some tank destroyers in support. However, the 8th had nearly the entire 70th Tank Battalion (three companies, less D Company), a company of M10 tank destroyers, a company of 4.2” chemical mortars, and two companies of combat engineers, to support the attack.

The regiment also had the bulk of the division’s artillery as well including two 105mm and a 155mm howitzer battalions. The 70th Tank Battalion’s six M4 105mm Shermans were also tied into the firing program, taking up the vacant position of the division’s third 105mm battalion which was supporting the 22nd Infantry Regiment elsewhere. The division also received extra heavy artillery from VII Corps.

Operation Cobra

All of this firepower was then concentrated to support the 8th Infantry’s 1st Battalion, giving that unit’s three rifle companies an extraordinary amount of firepower. Finally, just for good measure, the US Army Air Force was to carpet bomb the area in front of the 8th Infantry to soften up the German defenders. The plan was set to begin on 24 July 1944.

St. Lô-Périers Road

The 4th Infantry Division’s initial objective was the St. Lô-Périers road, then march forward to secure the corridor. Despite the bombers of the USAAF dropping their bombs short onto the 4th Infantry Division’s starting positions, the Ivy men stormed forward at 1100 hrs, making good progress. They reached the road unopposed, but the quiet was deceiving as the Germans rallied from the US preliminary bombardment.

The Ivy troops hit the main line of resistance just beyond the road. Remnants of the German 5th Parachute Division and the Panzer Lehr’s 901st Panzergrenadier Regiment had dug in their tanks and built formidable defensive line along the hedgerows and sunken roads. The riflemen assaulted, but the thick and broken bocage, massive craters, and unexploded ordinance left behind by the US bombers, stalled the infantry’s tank support. The Ivy men were on their own.

4th Infantry Division in Normandy

Desparate hand-to-hand battles were fought one hedgerow at a time. Without US tank or tank destroyer support, German armor ruled the battlefield where ever they were present. Lone bazooka men fought deadly duals with the German tanks, silencing them only after difficult games of cat and mouse.

Eventually the tanks of the 70th Tank Battalion arrived to help speed up the battle and propel the infantry assault into the next hedgerow. Although fighting as a battalion, many rifle companies found themselves fighting alone, separated from each other and left to overcome steep odds to secure objectives. Still, the Ivy men pressed on and won their battles.

La Chapelle-en-Juger

As the evening approached, the 8th Infantry Regiment was given emergency orders to attack La Chapelle-en-Juger. This was as critical objective for the breakout that was originally assigned to the 9th Infantry Division. However, it was clear by the evening that the 9th wasn’t in position to take it by nightfall, while the 4th had a shot.

At 1930 hours the 8th Infantry Regiment wheeled toward its new objective, however as night rapidly approached, General Barton wisely called off the attack and ordered the division to dig in for the night along the high ground outside the city.

The 4th ceased offensive operations at 2300 hours. The men of the 8th had been fighting non-stop for twelve hours, but they had achieved their goals. The 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions were able to exploit through the infantry’s gains and successfully complete Operation Cobra.

 

To Paris and Beyond

 

After Operation Cobra, the next Allied objective was Paris. Many Allied commanders advocated bypassing the French capital, fearing the Germans would destroy the historic city in bloody street fighting rather than surrender it. However, General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French, insisted and General Phillpe Leclerc’s 2nd French Armoured Division was given the honour of liberating Paris.

 

Leclerc’s attacks met with resistance on the approaches to the city, so the Allies sent the battleworn 4th Infantry Division forward to help. Together the two divisions pushed into Paris with the help of the local FFI (French Forces of the Interior).

To the Bitter End

The liberation of Paris marked a significant turning point in the fortunes of war in Europe, but the 4th Infantry Division still had a long way to go. After Paris, the division headed east to help crack the German Siegfried Line in the Hürtgen Forest and go on to play an important part in halting the Ardennes offensive on the southern shoulder. The 4th celebrated the end of the war in Bavaria in 1945.

4th Infantry Division in Normandy

Fielding the 4th Infantry Division

To field a Rifle Company from the 4th Infantry Division, use the Rifle Company on page 42 of D-Day: American. You can also use the 4th Infantry Division Ivy Command Card allows you to field a M7 Priest Artillery Battery instead of a 105mm Cannon Platoon.


Last Updated On Thursday, June 4, 2020 by Alexander at Battlefront