The Battle for the Cotentin

A US trooper poses by the Sainte Mere-Eglise road sign The Battle for the Cotentin

By Alessandro Fasolo

After the Allied landing at Utah Beach and the dropping of 82nd Airborne Division in Saint-Mere-Eglise area both opponents were at a stalemate, with neither of the two sides able to make progress. The Allied bridgehead became stronger everyday and after its conjunction with the airborne drop zones the Germans were forced on the defensive. The main American attacks in the Cotentin Peninsula were concentrated on Montebourg.
Three American divisions (4th, 9th and 82nd) were faced by Kampfgruppe Hoffmann and Muller of 243. Infanteriedivision (Static), Kampfgruppe Keil and Berg from 709. Infanteriedivision and 2 battalions of 91. Infanteriedivision (Airlanding), supported by 709. Panzerjäger battalion and strong artillery elements (1262. coastal artillery regiment, made up of 19 artillery pieces, 30. FlaK Regiment and the rocket launchers of the 100. Nebelwerfer Regiment). From D-Day to 15 June several armoured and infantry offensives were repulsed by German troops thanks to heavy indirect fire support.
Cotentin Peninsula on D-Day
A couple of days after the Allied landings, the German 77. Infanteriedivision was sent to Cotentin from Brittany to secure the western flank of the Allied bridgehead at Utah Beach, but on 16 June General “Lightning Joe” Collins, commander of VII Army Corp, with 9th Division and elements of 82nd Airborne Division broke the enemy defensive line taking Saint-Sauvure-Le-Vicomte and reaching the coast at Barneville, cutting off the German troops from the rest of Wehrmacht.

At this point, the 77. ID commander decided to force the US line heading south, in order to rejoin German LXXXIV Armeekorps. During the night of 19 June German grenadiers walked through American positions reaching their lines the next evening, after a desperate charge to take a bridge on Ollande River, held by the American 47th Infantry Regiment.

After the retreat of the 77.ID on 20 June the front was no longer able to resist the American attacks. While the American 79th Division’s tanks, which had arrived in the line that day, were penetrating Montebourg, the 4th Division started to outflank the German positions in the west and advance toward Cherbourg.

A German gun near Cherbourg
Having lost the possibility of holding their positions, in the evening Kampfgruppe Hoffmann, Keil and Muller started to fall back. They headed north, helped by bad weather conditions that kept away Allied air, but led to the abandoning of all anti-tank guns (this weather was the so called “Big Storm” which seriously damaged Mulberry ports on landing beaches).
Overlooking Cherbourg By the 21 June a new defensive line was built by the Germans all around Cherbourg. There were not enough men to cover the whole front (at this stage of the campaign German battalions were generally made up of between 90 and 180 soldiers), so they were organized in improvised strongholds. Only two of these (“Corner East” and “Corner West”, built by the 17-18 year old members of the pre-army training youth labour Todt organization) were fortified with bunkers, mines and barbed wire.
The others were mainly trenches and machine-gun nests situated in key positions and reinforced with second line personnel and Ost Battalions (eastern volunteers). All coastal bunkers (except for the Hamburg battery) had restricted firing arcs that did not allow the heavy batteries to fire inland.

During the German retreat, US General Collins ordered only a few attacks, all stopped by heavy artillery fire. American operations against the new German front start on morning of 21 June. Thousands of bombers and fighter-bombers, from Second Tactical Air Force (RAF) and IX Tactical Air Command (USAAF), and guns concentrated their fire before infantry and tanks began to advance. The centre of the German line was broken on 23 June, leaving isolated “Corner West” (defended by Kampfgruppe Keil, formed by a battalion from 919. Grenadier Regiment, assault battalion Messerschmitt and 17. Machine-gun battalion) and the “News Peninsula” (so called because of the great numbers of radars of Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe situated there) controlled by Kampfgruppe Muller in the west and “Corner East” defended by Kampfgruppe Rohrbach and Hamburg battery in the east.

On 24 June American troops reached suburbs of Cherbourg. The American tactics adopted to take an enemy position were always the same and relied on their material superiority. Before the assault the American officers requested a bomber attack and concentrated artillery fire. Once the position was taken they would use their excellent communication system to receive reinforcements immediately and repulse every enemy attempt to regain it.

Captured gun
The area around Cherbourg
Gun Bunker

On the morning of 25 June an Allied naval squadron engaged the German coastal batteries. In the beginning they managed to destroy Fort-des-Flamands, but when they came within range of the heavy batteries Hamburg, York and Brommy, they started to receive direct hits that sunk two cruisers and damaged HMS Glasgow, USS Texas, USS Brien, USS Bardon and USS Laffey, forcing the warships to retreat. Allied bombers were then sent in to attempt to destroy the German coastal guns, but the only result was about 80 Allied aircraft lost.

At 1900hours on the same day thirty German engineers, led by Hauptman Witt, demolished all buildings in the port and retreated during the night.

The German troops in Cherbourg ceased fire between 26 and 28 June at “Corner East” and battery Hamburg. In “News Peninsula” and “Corner West” battle ended on 30 June, with Kampfgruppe Muller surrendering to the American 9th Division.

The Allied High Command objective of taking Cherbourg in order to improve the logistical situation of the invading forces had been severely hampered. In fact it was the end of July before the first ship was able to dock at the port and it was not brought into limited use until the middle of August. 


Against the German decision to defend Cotentin Peninsula, and the resulting delay to Allied logistics, was the question of whether the lost divisions could have reinforced the front at Carentan. Could have these divisions improved the defensive lines where in the coming weeks Bradley’s US First Army would break the left flank of the German line and finally break out of Normandy and the bocage country.

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Last Updated On Wednesday, October 16, 2019 by Wayne at Battlefront