Panzer Lehr Counter-attack

Overlord Atlantik Wall

The Panzer Lehr Counter-attack at le Désert

The US Advance on St-Lô

The town of St-Lô was an important communications and transportation hub in Normandy and as such became an important objective for US forces operating in the western half of the Normandy beachhead. The terrain east of St-Lô was low hills and ridges, while to the southwest the terrain opened out and was blessed with an excellent road network ideal for a rapid advance inland. St-Lô also offered two crossing points over the Vire River.

The US advance inland from Omaha and Utah beaches began soon after the initial landings, the 29th, 2nd and 1st Infantry Divisions leading the way. By 18 June they were in striking distance of St-Lô. The arrival of the 30th Infantry Division gave a welcome respite for the 29th Infantry Division who had been fighting since D-Day and had suffered over 2,400 casualties during the fighting thus far, though they remained in the line and continued to push forward. 

The Germans, however, were relying on the exhausted Kampfgruppes of the 352. Infanteriedivision to hold off the US advance, many of which were on the point of breaking. The 3. Fallschirmjägerdivision and 353. Infanteriedivision had been rushed in to reinforce the front, but were still arriving and were not yet fully deployed.

Panzer Lehr Panzergrenadiers

Further reinforcements arrived in the sector to support the 352. Infanteriedivision on 25 June in the form of Kampfgruppe Kentner from the 266. Infanteriedivision. By the end of the month elements of the 343. Infanteriedivision were also in the area. 

After a lull in the fighting at the end of June the US once more pushed towards, as well as east and west of, St-Lô. On 7 July the 117th and 119th Infantry Regiments of the 30th Infantry Division had crossed the Vire at Ponte de St-Fromond and advanced west beyond St-Fromond-Eglise.

On 8 July the Panzer Lehr Division was placed under the command of the LXXXIV Korps with instructions to destroy the Vire bridgehead. However, the division require two days to assemble its troops in the sector. 

During this time the US VII Corps entered the battle east of the Taute River with the 9th Infantry Division. By 10 July the division had crossed the Taute-Vire canal and had its west flank fanned out towards the Taute.

Camouflaged Sherman halts by a road  By the end of the day they had advanced the 60th Infantry Regiment as far as Graignes in the west. The 47th Infantry Regiment reached Bois du Hommet and the 39th Infantry Regiment finally entered le Désert in the evening. Unfortunately the 39th Infantry Regiment’s slow advance meant they lost contact with the 47th Infantry Regiment to the west leaving a 1600 metre gap between the two regiments covered by a single company from the 39th Infantry Regiment’s 3rd battalion.
The Counter-attack 11 July 1944

On 10 July the Panzer Lehr Division took over the sector of Kampfgruppe Heintz (275. Infanteriedivision) west of the Vire. It had about 100 operational Panzers having lost rest of its establishment of 232 tanks and tank-hunters in the fighting against the British sector. The division’s commander Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein meet with the Seventh Army commander SS-Oberstgruppenführer Paul Hausser to discuss plans for a counter attack.

It was agreed that 901. Panzergrenadier Regiment and thirty Panther tanks of the 6. Panzer Regiment would advance from le Hommet-d’Arthenay towards St-Jean-de-Daye. Meanwhile further east another Kampfgruppe consisting of the 902. Panzergrenadier Regiment, and Panzer IV tanks would attack from Pont-Hébert to St-Fromond. To minimise the effect of Allied air superiority they attack would begin at night. The aim was to destroy the Vire bridgehead south of the Vire-Taute canal and therefore eliminate the most direct and immediate threat to St-Lô.

Each of these two Kampfgruppes were inturn divided into two Battalion groups:

Panther West Attack forces

I Battalion/901 Group
I Battalion, 901. Panzergrenadier Regiment
Two companies of 130. Panzerjägerabteilung (Jagdpanzer IV)
10 Panther tanks of the I Battalion, 6. Panzer Regiment

II Battalion/901 Group
II Battalion, 901. Panzergrenadier Regiment
Remaining Panther tanks of the I Battalion, 6. Panzer Regiment
East Attack forces

I Battalion/902 Group
I Battalion, 902. Panzergrenadier Regiment
II Battalion, 130. Panzer Regiment (Panzer IV)

II Battalion/902 Group
II Battalion, 902. Panzergrenadier Regiment
7th Company, II Battalion, 130. Panzer Regiment (Panzer IV)
Panzer Lehr "L"
The Western Attack

901. Panzergrenadier Regiment Kampfgruppe launched its attack northeast towards St-jean-de-Daye at 0145 hours on 11 July. The II Battalion/901 Group split off and turned north up the road towards la Charlemagnerie and la Caplainerie and the positions of the I Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, of the US 9th Infantry Division. The 2nd Assault Group continued northeast towards le Désert and the positions of the 39th Infantry Regiment.
Map of Counter-attack The I Battalion/901 Group easily broke through the surprised 39th Infantry Regiment. German troops also broke through the thinly protected gap between to two US regiments, allowing the Panzer Lehr Panzergrenadiers to over run the command of the III Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment. Pushing beyond le Désert two Panthers became destroyed crossing the dam across the stream near the village. Once the second tank had been knocked out it became impossible to cross.

Meanwhile the II Battalion/901 Group had reached la Caplainerie by 0245 hours and the crossroads, which were undefended. They then probed north and discovered a blocking position defended by four M10 Tank Destroyers of the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The column decided to outflank the position by turning northeast at the crossroads rather than directly attack the position.

The advance was stalled a la Sellerie 2km further northeast of the crossroads. Here they ran into more M10s of the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion. A fire fight broke out with both sides fired at each other’s muzzle flashes in the darkness. By daylight the Germans realised their exposed position.

After a US air strike that destroyed three Panthers they decided to retire back to the crossroads near la Caplainerie.

The II Battalion/901 Group then renewed its thrust northward through la Caplainerie along the road towards le Mesnil-Véneron. The lead Panther, heavily camouflaged with leaves and branches, soon came upon the US tank destroyers. The M10s opened fire, initially hitting with a HE round, before firing a second AP round and knocking out the lead German tank. This stalled the move north yet again.

By the afternoon substantial numbers of US reinforcements were converging on the Panzer Lehr’s attack. 

US Infantry
US M10 Tank Destroyer

Other elements of the 9th Infantry Division were directed to the III Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment’s positions with additional units from the 3rd Armored Division and 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion also sent to halt the German attack.

Heavy fighting continued in the afternoon and the Panther company attached to the II Batttalion/901 Group of the 901. Panzergrenadier Regiment Kampfgruppe was soon engaged in a deadly fire fight with the M10s at the blocking position as well as converging bazooka armed infantry of the of the I Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment. During the fighting the Panthers were also attacked by US aircraft and a number of Panthers were lost. Finally forced to retire the crews got two Panthers stuck in roadside drainage ditches and were forced to abandon them. By the end of the engagement all eight of the Panthers to engage the position were lost.

By 2100 hours the 9th Infantry Division were able to occupy the positions they had held at the start of the German attack.

The Eastern Attack

To the southeast the 902. Panzergrenadier regiment and the II Battalion, 130. Panzer Regiment were also making a counter-attack towards the Vire Bridgehead. This sector was defended by the 119th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division who like the 9th Infantry Division were freshly arrived in Normandy.

The attack began at night and thrust up the riverside road towards Cavigny. It was heavily supported by artillery fire and by 0930 hours it had reached la Coquerie. As the attack continued north it was countered by the III Battalion, 119th Infantry Regiment supported by Task Force Y (3rd Armored Division) and 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion. M10s halted the attack at Bahais. Task Force Y then moved down the river road towards the German’s starting position only to come under fire from the opposite bank of the Vire. German self-propelled guns knocked out six Shermans. Task Force Y then swung towards la Coquerie to attack the 902. Panzergrenadiers left flank. The kampfgruppe was forced to retreat back to its starting positions by 1500 hours where they set-up defensive positions at Pont-Hébert.

The II Battalion/902 Group meanwhile had thrust towards le Rocher from les Hauts Vents. The leading Panzer IV ran into strong resistance at the high ground around les Hauts Vents.

Knocked Out Panther

Several Panzer IV tanks were lost to bazooka fire and the Germans were forced to retreat. Later in the day the Task force Z (3rd Armored Division) counter-attacked towards les Hauts Vents.

At the end of the day the Panzer Lehr Division had gained some ground, but had been forced to give it up due to mounting casualties. They had lost over 700 men and some 30 tanks trying to breakthrough to the Vire Bridgehead. They soon realised the US forces were far too numerous to breakthrough with just a single under-strength division. The 9th Infantry Division’s presence in the area had been unknown to the Germans who had been expecting to face just the 30th Infantry Division.

News soon came to Seventh Army’s HQ that would put doubt on any further attempts to hold the western bank of the Vire. US forces had broken through the 3. Fallschirmjägerdivision’s positions around Hill192 and the road lay open to St-Lô.
Gaming Ideas

The four axis of attacks by the Panzer Lehr Division on 11 July allow for a number of gaming opportunities.

The various Kampfgruppe’s attacks allows for a mix of missions to be played, anything from Hold the Line to represent the road blocks, Breakthrough to represent the German flanking manoeuvres, Encounter to represent the escalating battles as the Germans try to advance against the increasing levels of reinforcements, and Fighting Withdrawal for when the Germans finally decide to withdraw.
US self-propelled artillery, the M7 Priest HMC
US Forces

The 9th and 30th Infantry Divisions fought well and can be represented by using the US Rifle Company Intelligence Briefing from Overlord. Armoured support can be Tank and /or Tank Destroyer Platoons. You may like to try one of the two 3rd Armored Division’s Task Forces and field a Tank or Armored Infantry Company.
9th infantry Division 9th Infantry Division
    39th Infantry Regiment
    47th Infantry Regiment
    60th Infantry Regiment
    9th Reconnaissance Troop
    15th Combat Engineer Battalion
    34th Artillery Battalion (155mm howitzers)
    26th, 60th, 84th Field Artillery Battalions (105mm howitzers)
30th Infantry Division
30th Infantry Division
    117th Infantry Regiment
    119th Infantry Regiment
    120th Infantry Regiment
    30th Reconnaissance Troop
    60th Combat Engineer Battalion
    127th Artillery Battalion (155mm howitzers)
    118th, 197th, 230th Field Artillery Battalions (105mm howitzers)
3rd Armored Division
    HQ Combat Command A
    HQ Combat Command B (Task Force Y and Z)
    32nd, 33rd Armored Regiments
    36th Armoured Infantry Regiment
    83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
    23rd Armored Engineer Battalion
    54th, 67th, 391st Armoured Field Artillery Battalions (105mm M7 HMC)

Task Force Y consisted of:
F and I Companies, 33rd Armored Regiment, A Company, 36th Armoured Infantry.

Corps Troops

899th Tank Destroyer Battalion
823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion

Panzer Lehr

The Panzer Lehr Division troops are easily represented from Atlantik Wall with Panzer or Panzergrenadier or even Panzerpionier kompanies. 

Panzer Lehr "L"

Last Updated On Wednesday, September 27, 2017 by Wayne at Battlefront