Operation Battle of Bloody Gulch

The 'Battle of Bloody Gulch' was fought between German and US forces in the area of the Manoir de Donville (otherwise Hill 30) about 1 mile (1.6 km) to the south-west of Carentan in Normandy (13 June 1944).

This comparatively small-scale battle involved elements of SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Otto Baum’s 17th SS Panzergrenadierdivision 'Götz von Berlichingen' and Oberstleutnant Friedrich Freiherr von der Heydte’s 6th Fallschirmjägerregiment on the one side and the US 501st, 502nd and 506th Parachute Infantry Regiments of Major General Maxwell D. Taylor’s US 101st Airborne Division, reinforced by elements of the 2nd Armored Division and 29th Division, on the other.

During the battle, the manor house of Manoir de Donville was the headquarters of the German forces. US soldiers nicknamed the road running past this spot as 'Bloody Gulch' after a place mentioned in the popular western film Destry Rides Again.

When the 101st Airborne Division entered the town of Carentan on 12 June after heavy fighting on the two previous days, it met only relatively light resistance. Most of the surviving German defenders, men of the 6th Fallschirmjägerregiment, had withdrawn to the south-west during the previous night after a heavy Allied naval and artillery bombardment. Each side appreciated the importance of the town: for the US forces, it was a link between 'Utah' Beach and 'Omaha' Beach, and would provide a base for further attacks deeper into German-occupied France; and for the Germans, the recapture of Carentan would constitute a first step toward driving a wedge between the two US landing beaches, severely disrupting and possibly even repulsing the Allied invasion.

The remnants of the 6th Fallschirmjägerregiment were resupplied and reinforced by assault guns and other elements of the 17th SS Panzergrenadierdivision during the night of 12/13 June. The combined force counterattacked to the north-east in the direction of Carentan at dawn on 13 June, just as the 506th and 501st Parachute Infantry were attacking to the south to enlarge the US defensive perimeter round the town. The 506th Parachute Infantry took the brunt of the attack, and by 10.30 the outnumbered and outgunned paratroopers were pushed back almost to the outskirts of the town. Under intense German fire, Company F of the 506th Parachute Infantry’s left flank broke and fell back, thereby exposing Company D’s right flank. This company also fell back, leaving Company E unsupported. Captain Thomas P. Mulvey, Company F’s commanding officer, was relieved on the spot by the battalion commander.

When a German tank attempted to penetrate the left flank, two men of Company E destroyed it with a bazooka. Meanwhile, battalion headquarters stopped the retreat of Companies D and F companies, pushing them forward 165 yards (150 m) to cover the left flank. The 2/502nd Parachute Infantry assumed position to the right of the 506th Parachute Infantry, but by 13.00 it too had suffered many casualties, and the German attack was on the verge of breaking through the US defences.

At this critical point, six tanks of Combat Command A of Major General Virgil C. Syverson’s 2nd Armored Division, accompanied by infantry of Major General Charles H. Gerhardt’s 29th Division, counterattacked to the south-west from Carentan at 16.30, inflicting severe casualties on the Germans and forcing them to withdraw with the loss of four tanks. The US victory led to the link of forces from 'Utah' Beach and 'Omaha' Beach, creating a secure lodgement area for further US operations.

The actions of the 507th Parachute Infantry during the 'Battle of Graignes', to the south-east of Carentan, had played a part in the capture of Carentan and the 'Battle of Bloody Gulch'. Had the paratroopers of the 507th Parachute Infantry, who had been dropped in the wrong location, not checked the advance of the 17th SS Panzergrenadierdivision, it is possible that the German division could have reached Carentan before the 101st Airborne Division. Furthermore, the 507th Parachute Infantry caused the Germans significant losses in the few days that they held Graignes, and this probably influenced the 'Battle of Bloody Gulch'.