Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Discussions on all (non-biographical) aspects of the Freikorps, Reichswehr, Austrian Bundesheer, Heer, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Fallschirmjäger and the other Luftwaffe ground forces. Hosted by Christoph Awender.
DPK325
Member
Posts: 7
Joined: 22 Mar 2019 20:08
Location: Ohio

Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by DPK325 » 22 Mar 2019 20:18

I’m going to be visiting Normandy and want to make a short side trip to Graignes. You may remember this as the site where 180 US paratroopers, with the aid of French civilians, held off the 17th SS in their advance to Carentan for so long that they were unable to make it in time to reenforce FJR6, who controversially withdrew from the town leaving only a rear guard. Obviously this heroic stand prevented a much stiffer resistance within the town itself. Unfortunately after the paratroopers withdrew, the SS men executed French civilians (including the priest) as collaborators, and executed the wounded American soldiers as well.

I’ve been reading a lot about the battle but a few details are confounding me. I’d love to have the questions answered before I go so I can put it in some context - any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

-Why were the 17th SS passing through Graignes anyway? I read that they were moving up from southern France, but I can’t see any reason they would pass through Graignes, which really had no good route to Carentan.

-Why did the 17th SS not simply bypass the town? Obviously it could be dangerous to leave a pocket like that in your rear, but nothing was more important to Rommel at the time than securing Carentan.

-Do we have any record of where the actions in Graignes took place, such as the initial ambush of the German scouts, or the ultimate assault where weight of numbers finally took the town? All the sources I’ve read have said the perimeter “south of town” was attacked, but I can’t find any detail if it was along any particular road, etc.

If anyone can help me make more sense of this battle before I visit, I will be forever thankful.

User avatar
jpz4
Member
Posts: 797
Joined: 04 Mar 2006 21:43
Location: The Netherlands

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by jpz4 » 23 Mar 2019 00:35

As you probably know, Martin K.A. Morgan has been studying this battle for a long time. He addresses it in 'Down to Earth' and also in 'The Americans on D-Day'. It is however an ongoing study and a lot remains unclear.

The importance of this battle is open for debate. At best it is a footnote in the records of 7.Armee. There is nothing to suggest the 'pocket' was considered a problem (it may even have been largely unknown). Graignes did not block any major roads and it could be (and was) bypassed to the west and east. The D89 could have been a useful alternative for the (south)eastern approach to Carentan, but I don't think its control was decisive in any way.
American claims on the strength of the attackers and their losses at Graignes are not supported by German records. As so often enemy numbers are inflated. This of course does not take anything away from the efforts and sacrifices made in trying to hold the town, but ultimately it changed very little and, as far as I see it, it did not delay the 17.SS in any significant way.

DPK325
Member
Posts: 7
Joined: 22 Mar 2019 20:08
Location: Ohio

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by DPK325 » 23 Mar 2019 01:38

I’m not doubting your answers, just honestly asking - regardless of how many losses 17th SS took, isn’t it undeniable that they were at Graignes for a couple of days? Given that holding Carentan was Rommel’s main concern at that point, and 17th SS was sent up to Carentan to reinforce the reeling FJR6, then why else would they stay there a couple days unless held up by a fierce defense? Was it just bad leadership? Even if it was, and the Germans COULD have gone around Graignes, they didn’t. They wasted two days there, and in doing so, the paratroopers did their part even if they didn’t take a single German life. That much seems beyond debate, unless the story that the 17th SS was there for two days is wrong or questionable (it could very well be - I’m just here to ask).

You say the numbers at Graignes are questionable. Is there some suspicion that only part of the 17th SS was at Graignes and the greater number of 17th SS did indeed bypass Graignes? If so - another honest question - why did 17th SS not get to Carentan until June 12? Don’t we know they were at Graignes, just a few miles away, on June 10?

And again, side question, do we even know why they were in Graignes in the first place? As you said, it is a city of little strategic value controlling no necessary roads, and it seems to be off the main avenue to Carentan.

Of course this next part is speculative but I think extremely likely: if 17th SS had been in the city of Carentan on June 10 and 11, instead of tangling with a small pocket of paratroopers a few miles south, the battle for Carentan would have been much different. The Americans would have taken Carentan eventually, but it would have taken much longer and cost many more lives:

1. I doubt Cole could have forced the causeway on June 10/11.

2. Even if he had, he probably couldn’t have held his position at the Ingouf farm the evening of June 11 (the Cabbage Patch Fight) against the 17th SS AND the depleted FJR6 (he was nearly forced to retreat by FJR6 alone).

3. Even if Cole held overnight, it’s extremely unlikely Von der Heydte would have needed to (or been allowed to, probably under threat of execution) withdraw his men to the Hill 30 area during the night of June 11. Because he did, the 506th and 327th were able to take Carentan in an hour. Had a hypothetical combined FJ/SS force fallen back to Carentan city instead of Hill-30, they likely would have been staging a fierce house-to-house defensive battle (instead of an attack at Bloody Gulch through hedgerow country) that likely would have cost far more American lives.

Correct me where I’m wrong if you believe I am mistaken. I have no pride and just want to learn! This is just my take.

User avatar
jpz4
Member
Posts: 797
Joined: 04 Mar 2006 21:43
Location: The Netherlands

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by jpz4 » 23 Mar 2019 16:26

I'll keep it brief for now. If you look at the orders, the division was simply not supposed to be in Carentan on 10/11 June.

It was slowly assembling as a reserve force in the area west of the Vire/south(west) of Carentan for counter-attacks in whatever direction required. Being an important reserve it was also not to become bogged down in any fighting (such as defending Carentan).

Orders to become involved at Carentan where not given until the evening of the 11th, after information had been received that the town had been abandoned.
This would shift the question to 'did the fighting at Graignes delay a counter-attack on Carentan?' I would say there would not have been enough time either way to launch a coordinated attack on the 12th, the division just wasn't ready yet. Even on the 13th the attack was carried out with minimal troops.

User avatar
Cult Icon
Member
Posts: 4455
Joined: 08 Apr 2014 19:00

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by Cult Icon » 24 Mar 2019 01:32

no mention of this in Stober's unit history

DPK325
Member
Posts: 7
Joined: 22 Mar 2019 20:08
Location: Ohio

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by DPK325 » 24 Mar 2019 15:49

Thanks for the replies. I don’t know why I had always assumed 17.SS was supposed to be hightailing it to Carentan. I guess just because that’s what the popular history concluded.

Cult Icon, can I ask what you mean by “no mention of this in Stober’s unit history”? Does Stöber allege that they were never even in Graignes? Or do you mean that he never mentions that they were supposed to be in Carentan in June 10/11?

Thanks again guys.

User avatar
jpz4
Member
Posts: 797
Joined: 04 Mar 2006 21:43
Location: The Netherlands

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by jpz4 » 24 Mar 2019 18:24

IIRC Stöber does not mention the fighting at Graignes at all.

The KTB of the division merely mentions: "Graignes was taken at 23:30 on 11 June, the countryside was mopped up during the night."
Followed by: "In the morning hours of 12 June, the reinforced II./37 is on its way to Carentan. Forward elements presumably at Méautis around 05:00."
On 12.6. there was also fighting around Montmartin-en-Graignes against elements of the 29.I.D. (175th IR).

It seems most likely that the sector east of the Taute river was the responsibility of the Rgt.38 from early on, while the 37 went in position to the west. The units involved at Graignes are however still not identified beyond any doubt.

User avatar
jpz4
Member
Posts: 797
Joined: 04 Mar 2006 21:43
Location: The Netherlands

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by jpz4 » 12 Dec 2020 21:51

FWIW, here's Marty presenting his latest analysis of the battle of Graignes. And it finally does identify the German force involved. If you're interested in this battle it is well worth the 1:40 hour watch. ;-)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_y8xA74Zy7I

There are a few minor things they could improve on, but the overal story is compelling and fascinating.

Simon Trew 1
Member
Posts: 105
Joined: 29 May 2017 07:46
Location: UK

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by Simon Trew 1 » 14 Dec 2020 11:01

Hello DPK 325 & jpz4

DPK 325 - I thoroughly recommend a visit to Graignes, if you have the opportunity. I have been several times. It is possible to visit the (replacement) bridge just north of the village where one of the early clashes took place (there is ample parking space for a minibus), the place where many of the paratroopers emerged from the marsh and were helped by French civilians - and where later many of the survivors hid (as described at some length in Marty Morgan's book), and the ruins of the church. The latter is a very moving location - the memorial itself (listing the names of the dead US personnel and civilians) and the remnants of the church tower make for a powerful reminder of one of the more awful features of what some people continue to see as quite a 'civilised' clash of arms (at least, by comparison with events elsewhere), but which actually involved a fairly large number of acts of considerable brutality. The hilltop location of the church also provides superb views over the marshland to the west.

Make sure you have a 1:25,000-scale 'Serie Bleue' map, and it then becomes easy to navigate your way around the battlefield.

As jpz4 says, there is not a lot in the German records about the battle. References in the 17th SS PzGr Div Operations Section War Diary (BA-MA RS 3 – 17/2) are restricted to:

11 June 1944:

1500 hrs:
SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt.37 greift schwachen Gegner in Graignes an und vernichtet ihn.
Befehl an SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt.37 (durch SS-Staf.Binge überbracht): I./37, vert. durch Teile Regt.-Einheiten sofort nach arledigung Auftrag Graignes in Marsch setzen über Tribehou in Raum nordostwärts Meautis (südw. Carentan). Auftrag: Gegenstoßreserve hinter Fallschirm-Rgt.6.
[37th SS PzGr Regt engages weak enemy forces in Graignes & annihilates them. Command issued that immediately {the word 'sofort' is underlined in the original} after completing its task at Graignes, 1st Bn plus regimental units are to move off to area south of Carentan to act as a counter-attack reserve behind 6th Parachute Regt.]

2330 hrs:
I./37 noch in Kampf.
Säuberung der Umgebung von Graignes erfolgt ab 12.6.44, 0530 Uhr.
[1st Battalion still fighting. Cleaning up of area around Graignes lasts until 0530 on 12 June.]

12 June 1944:

0730 hrs:
Anruf Div.Kdr. bei Kdr. SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt.37:
Frage: Wie lange benötigt I.Btl, zum Abmarsch, da geplant is, gesamtes Rgt. Gegen Carentan mit anzusetzen.
Antw: 4 Stunden, vorderste Kp, und Rgts-Einheiten entsprechend früher.
[Div commander wants to know how long it will be before 1st Battalion is on its way, as the plan is for the entire 37th SS PzGr Regt to participate in the attack against Carentan. Answer is four hours for the first company, although regimental units will leave earlier. {Given time involved in the march, this implies arrival in assembly area some time in the late afternoon/evening of 12 June.}]

As for German losses from the assault force (which seems to have been drawn largely from 37th SS PzGr Regt's first battalion plus regimental heavy weapons companies), no reliable record survives. War diary anlagen reproduced in Wind & Gunther's edited collection suggest that by 20 June, the division had lost 1 officer & 78 other ranks killed, 14 officers & 302 ORs wounded, and 2 officers & 59 ORs missing. Given what is known about the heavy casualties suffered by the division in the fighting around Carentan (especially to the west of the town) and losses resulting from an incident north-east of St-Lo where a reconnaissance unit encountered Allied forces and came off much the worse, it seems unlikely that the troops involved in the battle at Graignes lost more than a few dozen killed, wounded and missing (and it might not even have been this many). But frankly, this is just an educated guess, and it may yet be that further information will be discovered that will clarify the matter.

Anyway, I hope this is of some interest.

Simon

Simon Trew 1
Member
Posts: 105
Joined: 29 May 2017 07:46
Location: UK

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by Simon Trew 1 » 14 Dec 2020 14:01

Hello again,

I just watched the fascinating YouTube interview involving Paul Woodage & Marty Morgan. They are two excellent historians and I agree it is well worth watching.

I probably should have watched the interview before making my contribution above. Still, I found it thought-provoking and useful, and it has prompted a follow-up to my contribution earlier today.

I am struggling a bit with Marty’s claim that the unit that captured Graignes was no more than 2nd Company of 37th SS PzGr Regt (plus some heavy weapons, presumably from 4th and/or 13th [Infantry Gun] companies). Without having seen the document to which he referred (provided by the mayor of Graignes, I think he said), I admit I might be very wrong about this, but the following does seem worth adding.

Stober (in the German original, pp.70-3 & in the JJF translation pp.73-6) includes quite a detailed battle account by Rottenfuhrer Hoffmann, who belonged to I./37’s 1st Company. According to Hoffmann, it describes a battle fought at ‘Auvers’ (mis-typed as ‘Auvres’ in the JJF translation) on 11 June. Read that account, if you have the book to hand. Does that sound like Graignes to you? It sounds mightily like it to me. Note all sorts of interesting things, e.g. the reference to storming a U.S. hilltop position, the re-capture of a captured 6th Para Regt motorcycle, the U.S. doctor working in the church aid station, the consolidation of the position against U.S. troops remaining north of the hill after the initial combat. All of these can be matched with Graignes, can they not?

[I have driven through Auvers many times over the years, though not recently. I must admit it has not registered strongly as a location in my mind, so I don’t recall if one can match its physical features to those described by Hoffmann. But a quick look at the Serie Bleue map contours for the area makes me doubt it quite a lot.]

I don’t have my US airborne books or files at home (where I am – the books & files are in my work office and I’m not planning to be there until after Christmas). So I can’t be certain that there was not a battle at Auvers (a commune several miles west of Carentan, centred on the T-junction where the D 223 and D 903 join) on 11 June (or 10 June, as Stober confusingly states immediately after the end of Hoffmann’s account). But if there was one, I think we can be reasonably confident that I./37 was not involved in it. At least, there is no reference at all to such a clash in the 17th SS divisional war diary or documents reproduced in Wind & Gunther. That, plus the fact that I./37 SS PzGr Regt was still (according to the war diary) some distance from a location three or more miles due west of Carentan on 11 June, seems to make its involvement in a clash at Auvers rather unlikely.

Among other things, Hoffmann mentions the relief at Auvers [sic] of 1st Company by 2nd Company on the afternoon on 12 June. Stober adds that 2nd Company lost 9 killed and 7 wounded in the battle for Auvers on 10 June [sic – but see above – this is clearly an inaccurate date], and indicates clearly that it was involved in the battle for the village. Hoffmann’s account may be incomplete, but it implies that his own company lost only one man killed (Oberscharfuhrer Schrag) and another wounded (Sturmann Schumacher) in the battle for Auvers [sic].

So if Hoffmann is actually describing the battle for Graignes, then the implication is that 1st and 2nd Companies, plus some heavy weapons from 4th/13th Companies, were actually the German forces who overwhelmed the Americans (and Australian!) at Graignes on 11-12 June, and that they lost at least 10 killed and 8 wounded in doing so. That still leaves 3rd Company to account for, of course. Maybe that was in reserve, or maybe it was heading off somewhere else? Also, I guess it possible that heavy weapons units involved in the battle for the village may also have suffered losses, so maybe the total German casualties did exceed 20 men?

By the way, UKNA PWIS(H)/LF/337 (interrogation report) includes information from a prisoner (Unterscharfuhrer Riedel) captured from 37th SS PzGr Regt’s 2nd Company on 10 July. Prisoners are rarely the most reliable of sources, and it is interesting to note that his interrogator described him as a “very stupid man”. Still, he adds a few interesting details. Specifically, he says that 1st Company had no heavy weapons [not what the ORBATs reproduced in Wood & Dugdale pp.,156-8 show], only three rifle platoons each of about 30 men (plus, presumably, a headquarters element). He also says that 2nd Company had been much reduced by drafts to other companies in mid-May 1944, and that by the time of the invasion it only had a single platoon commanded by a sergeant and with three 10-man sections. According to the prisoner, by the time he was captured about 5 men had been killed or wounded in 2nd Company.

Anyway, I apologise sincerely if this muddies the waters further. As indicated above, it would be helpful if I had to hand various things about the U.S. airborne forces that are temporarily inaccessible. These might clear up details of a battle several miles west of Carentan on 11 June, if there was one. Certainly, I might have got this badly wrong. But I find it interesting that Hoffmann’s account seems to fit neatly with features of the battle for Graignes, and would be especially interested in jpz4’s views about this (assuming he sees this contribution).

Best wishes to all, hope you find this interesting.

Simon

User avatar
jpz4
Member
Posts: 797
Joined: 04 Mar 2006 21:43
Location: The Netherlands

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by jpz4 » 14 Dec 2020 15:38

Hi Simon, glad you are getting involved in this. Gives us a chance to look into this more closely.

In regards to your second post.
Marty and I have both examined the Auvers account from Hoffmann, with the exact same reaction you had: isn't this about Graignes? And it might well be. We are not sufficiently sure at the moment.

The problem with Hoffmann's account is that if it is about Graignes both the name and date are wrong. Did 1.Kp. mop up Graignes on 12 June after 2.Kp. had left? Possibly, but that would put the later relief of 1.Kp. by 2.Kp. to the late afternoon of 13 June.... and then Hoffmann cannot have joined the attack on Carentan after moving during the night to the LD for that attack.
But perhaps 1.Kp. and 2.Kp. actually attacked different villages? Where did Stöber find his information on the losses of 2.Kp. at Auvers? Or was he just speculating that the losses of 2.Kp. had been sustained at Auvers as Hoffmann suggests? The "handful" killed as mentioned in the Youtube epsiode of is about the 4 (named) 2.Kp. men records say to have been killed at Graignes on 11 June.

The new document covers the actions of Rgt.37 on 11 June. On the morning of 11 June it assembled in the area of St.André-de-Bohon (-II. and III.Btl.). It mentions 3.Kp. being sent towards the bridge on the Taute-Vire canal north of St.Jean-de-Daye and 2.Kp. moving on Graignes. They are basically making a recon of the area and securing the bridges. It seems that they are not aware that Rgt.38 does already have elements north of the canal as they (later) report their right neighbor to be Füs.Btl.275. 1./37 is not mentioned in the document nor is 4.Kp. The question is why? Was 1.Kp. indeed despatched to Auvers (or whatever village that was)? Or did 1. and 2.Kp. both attack Graignes at different times on 11 June? But if that's the case the timeline, again, doesn't seem to add up. And neither source mentions both the companies being involved on the same day... The attack described by Hoffmann does not appear to have been intense enough to match what we believe to be a reasonable reflection of the battle. And for what it's worth, the first report made within days off the fighting at Graignes speaks of the US forces being attacked by a reinforced company.
When it comes to losses, the copy of the document I've seen is incomplete. I'm still trying to obtain a complete copy which might hold more information on the losses per subunit. If we get incredibly lucky we might found out once and for all...

At this stage I still find it too difficult to say that Hoffmann speaks of Graignes. It is part of the ongoing investigation. We should also not forget that the presence of stray paratrooper groups behind the front remains rather unclear. There certainly were more (small) groups than just those around Graignes. Did those hold any other hamlets that may have caused confusion?

Once more of the questions have been answered I expect there to be a follow up episode on WW2TV. Right now I think the main message should be that a lot of the story as it has been told is wrong on a lot of things and we have new facts on a lot of things. While many things remain to be investigated the 'bandwith' of the events has been brought down to a far more acceptable level and the truth lies somewhere within. Let's try to get even closer to it.

Simon Trew 1
Member
Posts: 105
Joined: 29 May 2017 07:46
Location: UK

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by Simon Trew 1 » 14 Dec 2020 17:14

Thanks for the prompt response, jpz4.

Interesting stuff. A few thoughts:

a) As mentioned above, I've been to Auvers fairly often. I used to drive between the western Cotentin and Carentan several times each year, passing through Auvers en route, but haven't done so for the last five years (maybe more). My memory of this area is that it is rather undistinguished, without major terrain features - and the Serie Bleue map (especially its contour lines) rather reinforces this impression. It would be interesting if somebody tried to get on the ground to match Hoffmann's account with the locality. My guess is they would struggle. By contrast, Hoffmann's account feels right for the topography of Graignes, which I last visited about eighteen months ago and which I know reasonably well (though by no means as well as Marty).

b) Also as mentioned above, it would be helpful to probe U.S. accounts to find out what - if anything - was going on in the Auvers area on 10-12 June. I take your point about mis-dropped paratroopers being all over the place, but were there any at Auvers that we know about? And if so, did they get into a fight of reasonable dimensions any time from 10-12 June? I can check my U.S. accounts when I get back to the office, but in the meantime you and Marty (and others) may have a quicker response on this matter.

c) Nothing in 17th SS Div's war diary or other documents (including the one you explain above) explicitly (or even implicitly) suggests that any element of I./37 was anywhere near Auvers on 10-11 June. But these sources do clearly locate at least some elements of I./37 at Graignes and (according to the document you describe) also near St.J-d-D. The fact that 4th Company is not mentioned could be explained in various ways - one being that as the weapons company, it was divided up and tactically subordinated to the rifle companies (logical enough if the battalion was advancing on separate axes along routes that were isolated from one another by major terrain features). An argument against this would be violation of the concentration of firepower principle. Still, it might have happened. As for the failure to mention 1st Company, I wonder what your thoughts are about Riedel's statements in captivity? I realise that the 1 June gliederungen reproduced by Wood & Dugdale imply that all companies in 1st Bn were at full strength and similarly armed. Maybe that's correct and Riedel was lying/misinformed/very stupid (as his interrogator claimed!). But if Riedel was even partly correct, it is conceivable that 1st and 2nd companies were temporarily amalgamated and therefore referred to as a single entity (i.e. 2nd Company). Against this, Hoffmann seems to suggest that 2nd Company relieved 1st Company at wherever he was on the afternoon of 12 June, which would imply they were two separate entities. Also, if Stober is right and 2nd Company lost 9 killed and 7 wounded in a battle somewhere on or about 10 June, this hardly fits either with Riedel's claim that the company only had a platoon (plus, possibly, an HQ element) to start with, or that it had only lost 5 men up to 10 July.

d) The 12 June KTB entry for 0730 hrs strikes me as important. My German is not brilliant, to say the least. But I understand that the response of the regimental commander to the GOC's question is that the FIRST company from Graignes to be ready to depart would head off at about 1130 hrs (4 hrs after the GOC's question). I don't think this literally means 1st Company (those with better German than mine can clarify) - rather, it implies that there were at least two companies at Graignes, and one would be ready to leave before the other. (The fact that the regimental units supporting the fight at Graignes are mentioned separately indicates that the second company was a rifle company.) Also, it strikes me that Hoffmann's reference to a relief of his own 1st Company by 2nd Company at wherever he was fits quite neatly with this information. What do you think?

For what it's worth, I think there is reasonable evidence for Hoffmann getting the date of the battle right (11 June with a relief on the following afternoon - p.75 JJF version: "During the late afternoon of 12 June our 1./37 was relieved by Obersturmfuhrer von Bockmann's 2./37), but its location wrong. Since I./37 did end up fighting a big battle west of Carentan (and losing many men) in the Auvers area a couple of days later, it doesn't seem beyond the bounds of possibility that Hoffmann simply got a little confused about what happened where and when (does anybody know when Hoffmann wrote his account?). As for Stober claiming (p.76 JJF version) that 2./37 participated in a "completely successful attack... against Auvers" on 10 June, that is clearly incorrect insofar as the date and location are concerned. Yet he is clearly describing a fight of some sort (9 killed and 7 wounded). So if not at Auvers on 10 June, when and where was this? In the circumstances, it doesn't seem inherently unreasonable to suggest that the company's battle actually took place at Graignes. How well coordinated 1st and 2nd companies' actions in this battle might have been does seem somewhat unclear (although the Graignes wider battlefield area is big and complex enough to swallow up two companies), but I do think it is quite possible that both companies were involved, with 1st Company bearing the responsibility for the attack on the hill (as described by Hoffmann), while 2nd Company mopped up outlying positions and headed towards the blown-up bridge on the canal. Then, once they had consolidated the position to their own satisfaction, and having been given a kick by the GOC on the morning of the 12th, 1st Company prepares for departure, hands over continued mopping up around Graignes to 2nd Company, and resumes its move towards Carentan.

Anyway, I think I have exhausted the sources that I have to hand. But I hope these thoughts add to rather than confuse the debate. Given the profile that the battle for Graignes has attracted in recent years (as well as Marty's book I can think of at least two other studies - one a graphic novel treatment - that I have on my shelves at work), and the way in which it has been fitted into accounts of battlefield atrocities (e.g. those by my former colleague, Peter Lieb), it does seem to be a battle deserving a little more attention. And I wish you, Marty, Paul and all others all the best in coming to a clearer conclusion, if that is ever possible.

Best,

Simon

User avatar
jpz4
Member
Posts: 797
Joined: 04 Mar 2006 21:43
Location: The Netherlands

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by jpz4 » 14 Dec 2020 17:58

Simon, you are pretty much reflecting everything going around in my own head. It's good to know I'm not the only one seeing possibilities and options - and problems.

1)
0730 hrs: Anruf Div.Kdr. bei Kdr. SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt.37:
Frage: Wie lange benötigt I.Btl, zum Abmarsch, da geplant is, gesamtes Rgt. Gegen Carentan mit anzusetzen.
Antw: 4 Stunden, vorderste Kp, und Rgts-Einheiten entsprechend früher.
"vorderste Kp" refers to nearest/most forward/closest company in the sense that it is about the first company that can arrive.
To me the communication reflects that I.Btl. is gathered in a different sector than where the attack is to take place. That might well have been along the Taute-Vire canal, not necessarily just Graignes. And of course we have 3.Kp. in the wider area as well.

2)
As for other US elements south of the Douve, I'm thinking of at least one particular sizeable force (led by a fairly senior officer), but I need to look it up (it might not have been in the right area to begin with). We also do know V.d.H. was concerned about enemy forces infiltrating in his rear, right?

3)
I find Riedel's account an example of one that is quite useless and difficult to make sense of. The 1 June Gliederung of the division gives a manpower strength in the regiment that is rather high. Too high to match Riedel if you'd ask me right now. If the guy was as stupid as he supposedly was, he may have completed misunderstood how and where the rest of his company was...

Sam Wren
Member
Posts: 380
Joined: 05 Aug 2006 22:50
Location: Abilene, Texas

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by Sam Wren » 15 Dec 2020 20:27

While not definitive, the KIA cards that I have that show Graignes as the death location are all from 2./SS-PGR 37:
1944.06.11 - Tinnes, SS-Rottf. Josef, 2./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 37 (Graignes)
1944.06.11 - Rathmer, Gren. Bernhard, 2./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 37 (Graignes)
1944.06.11 - Hofmann, SS-Ogren. Karl, 2./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 37 (Graignes)
1944.06.11 - Gastager, SS-Ogren. Johann, 2./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 37 (Graignes)
1944.06.11 - Attenhauser, SS-Gren. Alois, 2./SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. 37 (Graignes)

Simon Trew 1
Member
Posts: 105
Joined: 29 May 2017 07:46
Location: UK

Re: Questions about Graignes and 17th SS

Post by Simon Trew 1 » 20 May 2021 10:09

Hello all,

I'm re-starting this thread in the light of having just received and read (insofar as my shoddy language skills allow) the article about Graignes in the new edition of Normandie 1944 Magazine (No.39, May - July 2021, pp.2-15). The article is by Denis van der Brink, and summarises Marty Morgan's views (as well as the author's own, I presume) about the possible need to re-write the story of the Graignes 'atrocities'.

The article - for those who haven't seen it - is nicely illustrated (not least, it includes a facsimile copy of part of a German document dated 11 June which clarifies the identity of the 17th SS PzGr Div units in the area that day) and makes a number of interesting points. In particular, it casts reasonable doubt on some of the 'execution of prisoners' stories surrounding the Graignes battle. But it leaves some questions unanswered (I believe) and I wonder if this is the moment to ask your thoughts about:

1. What heavy weapons were employed by the Germans during the assault on Graignes, and to which unit/sub-unit did they below? US accounts seem to suggest the presence of heavy weapons which I struggle to believe (from US descriptions) belonged to 37th SS PzGr Regt's 2nd Company (the unit which van der Brink says defeated the US defence at Graignes). Since it is not irrational to think that it was the presence of such heavy weapons that dealt a disproportionately serious blow to the paratroopers' capacity to defend Graignes against an infantry unit similar in numbers to the defenders' own forces, this seems to me to be an issue that still requires attention. For what it is worth, I suspect they belonged to sub-units of the 37th's heavy weapons company, but I wonder what others think?

2. I hope I am not out of line in suggesting that one could finish the article wondering if any atrocity at all happened at Graignes after the position was overrun. Yet the list of dead Americans at the end of the article begs two closely-related questions:

a. Where are the wounded prisoners? Are we seriously supposed to believe that as a result the battle, US personnel fell into one of only two categories - those who escaped by exfiltrating to Carentan and other places, and those who were killed outright in a 'fair fight' (rather than after capture)? 49 dead Americans (and one Australian) is quite a large number for such a small battle, and I struggle to believe that they all fell stone dead during battle to a bullet through the heart or a direct hit from a larger round. Battles just aren't like that - most casualties are wounded rather than killed, and most of the wounded will survive if they get quick and decent treatment (either from their own medics or after capture). So where are the wounded? OK, so some walking wounded may have escaped. But what about the more gravely injured, who couldn't be moved when Graignes was overrun. What happened to them?

b. In the list of 49 dead US personnel, as well as Captain Sophian (who if I remember rightly was the senior medic) there are no less than eight medics identified. Again, I struggle to believe they were all killed outright treating wounded in their front-line positions. More likely, most or all of them would have been concentrated in the aid station (in the church, if I recall correctly) and they ought to have survived the battle even if they chose to stay with the wounded. So what happened to them when the aid station was overrun? The author of the article thinks (p.10) that Sophian may have been with the small group that fled SW from Graignes at the end of the battle, most of whom were killed when they ran into a group of SS personnel at a bridge. But he has no firm evidence (I think) for this, beyond the testimony of a survivor who says that there were three officers (Johnston, Maxwell and a.n.other) in this group, and in any case the group clearly did not include the other eight medical personnel who are among those listed as killed. So what happened to the latter? Were all the medics killed, along with any wounded they may have been trying to move, as they tried to escape? Or did at least some of them attempt to surrender at the church, being killed either at that moment or after their surrender was accepted?

I guess my point is fairly obvious - i.e. that even if some of the specific examples of alleged atrocities by members of 17th SS ought to be questioned, that still doesn't deal with the larger question of how most of those Americans who died at Graignes perished. Did they all die in battle, as one could infer from the article, or is the allegation of a large-scale killing of prisoners still true in general, if not in some specific details? I wonder what you think?

I should add before I go that as indicated above, my French-language skills are underwhelming. Quite possibly, I have missed a sentence or two in the article which adds nuance or which addresses some of my questions . So I offer a pre-emptive apology if there is something there that I should properly have taken into account before posting. In such a case, I will be pleased rather than annoyed if somebody points out this fact!

Anyway, I would be interested in your views, and wonder if Marty or Denis can be prompted to offer a few thoughts here too?

Simon

Return to “Heer, Waffen-SS & Fallschirmjäger”