UPDATED Saturday, June 1st 2013
D-Day, 6/06/44, Normandy, Robert Warner 3rd Battalion 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment Company G, 82nd Airborne, fought with his buddies against a SS Nazi Regiment at Graignes France, site of the “Secret Massacre“. WWII Researcher Brian Siddall of Ithaca, N.Y supplied additional information concerning my father Robert Warner a 82nd Airborne paratrooper from Binghamton NY of the 507th PIR on D-day in Graignes France and the ensuing massacre. On D-Day, 6/06/1944, the 507th PIR of the 82 Airborne expected to parachute around the La Fiere bridges west of Ste Mere Eglise and hold them against an expected German counterattack. Paratrooper Robert Warner from Binghamton NY was one of the 82nd Airborne paratroopers on this day with his machine gun and 81 mm mortar platoon. D-Day: The Secret Massacre, click here.
In reality, about 200 men, Robert Warner of the 82nd Airborne included, were dropped over 20 miles from their target, in the flooded marshlands around the towns of Graignes and Tribehou, which are south and southwest of Carentan, respectively theirs was the worst misdrop of any airborne unit on June 6, 1944. While pretty close from a walking distance perspective (maybe 10 miles), the towns were in the flooded zone that was created by the Germans opening the locks and flooding the fields in the lower Cotentin area. Moving to Carentan across the roads would have been risky because of the presence of German soldiers, and crossing the flooded area was very difficult. In fact, many of the paratroopers who landed in the flooded zones never made it out of their harnesses and drowned. In addition, many of the equipment bundles of the soldiers ended up in the water as well. Once organized, the Americans, numbering about 175-200 realized how badly off target their drop was. Realizing too that their position was not ideal for joining the fight near Ste Mere Eglise.
Eventually, the Germans brought up two 88s and scored direct hits on the church, killing at least one spotter who refused to leave despite seeing the 88s (this is a scene right out of the movie “Saving Private Ryan“). With the steeple gone, the Germans attacked in strength, pushing back many of the American paratroopers, most of whom were wounded and low on ammo and food. After the Americans evacuated and the Germans captured the village, something terrible happened. Elements of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division had conducted the final assault on Graignes. When the 17th attacked, it was with a regimental sized force of approximately 2,000. The odds were literally ten to one in the Germans’ favor. Despite those odds though, the 182 paratroopers defending Graignes inflicted an estimated five hundred killed and seven hundred wounded on the Germans during the course of the fighting on the 10th and 11th. The stubborn and determined American defense that gave the 17th such high losses brought on a vicious and brutal reprisal.
At the end of the 11 June battle, the 17th SS stormed the church and found Capt. Sophian’s aid station. They promptly forced the Captain and all of the wounded outside where they were made to line-up against a wall. The men were then divided into two groups and marched away from the church. One group (nine troopers) was marched off to the south and the other group (five troopers) was marched down to the edge of a shallow pond behind Madame Boursier’s café. At the edge of the pond, the SS bayoneted the wounded 507th paratroopers and threw them into the water one on top of the other. The other group of 507th paratroopers was forced to march four kilometers to the south to a field near the village of Le Mesnil Angot. There, the nine wounded men were forced to dig a pit. As soon as the pit was complete, the SS shot each one of them in the back of the head and dumped their bodies in the pit one on top of the other. The Germans killed other townspeople and then went on to destroy nearly every building around the Graignes church. Sadly, the murder of the paratroopers was only the beginning of the atrocity at Graignes. While one group of the Germans led the Americans off to execution, other Germans began systematically rounding-up French civilians suspected of assisting them.
At about the same time, a group of SS Nazi men proceeded to the church rectory seeking revenge. They knew that the church’s belfry had been used throughout the battle as an observation point. They knew that the accurate and devastating mortar fire (Robert F. Warner) that had been controlled by the observers in that belfry had killed and wounded hundreds of their comrades. Consequently, the SS sought to make an example out of the people at the church whose interaction with the Americans had permitted those casualties to happen. The Germans burst into the rectory, dragged Father Leblastier and Father Lebarbanchon into the courtyard and shot them both to death. The Germans then discovered Madeleine Pezeril and eighty-year-old Eugenie DuJardin. Overwhelmed with fear, the two ladies had been cowering in their quarters ever since the beginning of the final assault. The Germans shot and killed both women in their beds.
Meanwhile, a total of forty-four villagers had been rounded up and were under interrogation by the Germans as suspected collaborators. They were threatened with execution if they did not turn in the names of any and all villagers who had actively assisted the Americans, but not a single one of them turned in a single name. In fact, none of them revealed the prominent role that Alphonse Voydie had played in the Graignes drama. Had the Germans known that Voydie had been the catalyst of organization that he was, they would surely have executed him too. Knowing what was happening in town made the next act even more remarkable. A group of at least 20 Americans hid in a barn for about 2-3 days while German patrols went through the area. The farm owners organized a secret system of feeding the men and kept them alive and hidden at the risk of certain death. Eventually, a small group of survivors was secreted across the swamp by some of the young men from the town, where the Americans entered into the liberated town of Carentan.
On 24 March 1945 Operation Varsity would be the last full scale airborne drop of World War II and the assignment went to the 17th Airborne Division with the 507th spearheading the assault dropping at the southern edge of the Diersfordter Forest, three mile northwest of Wesel, see http://www.ww2-airborne.us/units/507/507.html