Robert M. Murphy retells his personal experiences during the 82d Airborne Division's airdrop into the Normandy Peninsula. Between June 6th and June 9th, paratroopers held this bridge against horrific mortar & artillery fire, and fierce German counterattacks. Armed with only what they could carry in the airborne drop & a few anti-tank guns recovered from broken gliders, the paratroopers held off two Panzer attacks supported by 200 infantrymen in each of the attacks. Major General Gavin is attributed as saying when the fighting ended "the [Meredet] causeway - some 500 yards - was so thick with bodies you could have walked from end to end without ever touching the ground." This is the story of the men and women who experienced this fierce battle.
The La Fiere bridge is located about 2 miles west of St Mere Eglise. The men of the 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) were assigned the mission of securing this bridge and defending it until relieved. This bridge was one of the few roads that offered a direct path to the exit roads off of Utah Beach. A successful German counter-attack along this road would have delayed the American exit off of this beachhead. The success of the men of the 505 PIR directly contributed to the rapid departure of Utah beach.
The book is laid out into four major sections. First and foremost is an explanation of the battle, written in a proper historical format. The story is laid out in chronological order, using multiple sources to corroborate the actual events of the battle. There are a few interjections of supporting material, such as the mission of the pathfinders. Murphy was a pathfinder, a special paratrooper dropped into a landing zone one day prior to the assault. He carried a homing radar and other signaling aids to mark the correct drop zone for the rest of the paratroopers. This supporting information greatly enhanced the understanding of the book for "legs" [non-paratroopers].
The three subsequent parts of the book are personal recollections of American soldiers; German soldiers; and the French civilians who live through the battle. I emphasize "personal" because in many cases, individuals could only explain what was going on in front of their gun sight, without any understanding of the overall tactical picture.
As a child growing up, my first experience with D Day was the classic movie "The Longest Day (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)". This book sets straight two of the more memorable characters in the movie. Red Buttons portrayed John Steele, a private whose parachute snagged on the steeple of St. Mere Eglise's church. The true story is far more fascinating than what was fictionalized in the movie. The second character was Lt Col Vandervoort, portrayed by John Wayne. Many of the soldiers have fond memories of this outstanding combat commander. These soldiers did not directly fight at La Fiere bridge, but they were all part of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment who fought and died in the area surrounding St. Mere Eglise.
The original version of this book was self-published. With the assistance of a great editor, this book is now clearly organized. The book is well supported with photographs on almost every page. The battle narrative also includes official battle maps prepared by the US Army's cartographic division. These maps perfectly explained the layout of the battle as it unfolded.
For a fictionalized account of these events, I highly recommend Jeff Shaara's "The Steel Wave: A Novel of World War II" which includes the exploits of the men of the 505th PIR.