Sainte-Mère-Église

The town was occupied by the Germans in June 1940 without a fight.  Over the following few years the inhabitants and the Germans learned to live with each other. In 1943 many of these Germans began to move to other sectors so the town was just like any other sleepy little town in Northern France.

With the impending threat of invasion looming the Germans under Lieutenant Zitt started to move back into the town in early 1944. These men were mostly anti-aircraft gunners and spent their time putting up anti-airborne poles and collecting all the radios in the town as it was forbidden to listen to the BBC.

The one major important factor with the town was a major road, the N13 that ran through it between Bayeux and Cherbourg which the Germans would use when they counterattacked the troops that would be landing at Utah and Omaha beaches.

The task of taking this town and holding it was given to the 82nd Airborne Division (all American) under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Edward C. Krause of the 3rd Battalion of the 505th PIR.  Their drop was a successful one unlike most of the other parachute drops which missed their drop zones, but they suffered many casualties.
As bad luck would have it a fire was burning down a large house in the square where the town mayor,  Alexandre Renaud, had gathered with the people trying to put out this fire. The whole area was lit up by the flames so when the paratroopers descended they were seen and were therefore easy targets for the Germans down below.  The fighting eventually died down and by daylight the Americans were in control of the town.

The Germans counterattacked throughout the day so Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin H. Vandervoort of the 2nd Battalion 505th PIR, who had broken an ankle in the drop moved back to the town from a defence line he had set up north and jointly repelled the counterattacks. On June 7th American tanks arrived from Utah beach so the beach head was now secure .This was the first town liberated on D-Day.
Some important things that the visitor can see when they visit this town is the Paratrooper hanging from the church steeple, this depicts the real life Paratrooper, Private John Steele, who landed on the roof and hung there for two hours pretending to be dead. This was played out by the actor Red Buttons in the film The ‘Longest day’.  The original water pump can still be seen as can the battle damage if you look close enough.

The U.S Airborne Museum
The Museum is beside the main square and was opened in 1961 by General James Gavin. They have a vast array of uniforms, weapons, vehicles, a C 47 Dakota and Waco glider to name but a few.

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