As main part of the Manstein Plan or Fall Gelb (Case Yellow), you know the German Army Group A goal was crossing the Meuse river with the intention of capturing Sedan and pushing northwards towards the Channel coast, in order to entrap the Allied forces that were advancing east into Belgium. Its capture would enable a German advance into the undefended depths of open French countryside and to the English Channel. The result would be a strategic-level encirclement.

Only 42 bunkers protected the Sedan bridgeheads on the outbreak of war in September 1939 and an additional 61 were built by 10 May. However, by 10 May, most of the bunkers were incomplete, lacking gun port shutters for the artillery casemates. Some of the bunkers lacked rear doors, making them vulnerable to infiltration by infantry.

The 1st Panzer Division commanded by Brigadier-General Friedrich Kirchner, supported by the Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland and the Sturmpionier-Battalion 43 (43rd Assault Engineer Battalion), prepared to strike at the Gaulier bridgehead, in the centre of Sedan's tactical front.

German troops use inflatable rubber rafts to cross the Meuse River while under fire (Photo Credit)

On 13 May, the Großdeutschland was the first unit to breach the defences on Hill 247, the high ground dominating Gaulier. The regiment, much to their surprise, discovered the Luftwaffe had failed to destroy the enemy bunkers. The main effort of the regiment rested with the 2nd Battalion. The battalion commander decided to use a factory adjacent to the river as his command post, and established machine gun positions on the upper floors of the building to engage three French bunkers on the opposite, river bank.

As scheduled, the first assault squad carried its boat to the water's edge at 16:00 hours, but was immediately engaged by the French from the bunker positions. The entire squad was mowed down and killed, and the boat destroyed. The second squad met the same fate. Enemy small arms fire ensured that crossing the river at Pont Neuf bridge could not be done in rubber assault boats as intended. The Regiment retreated. Reconnaissance found an enemy Bunker, No. 211, was still active. Its location guarded the bridgehead, making it dangerous for German infantry attempting a crossing.

When a 3.7 cm half track mounted Flak gun arrived at the scene, the battalion commander ordered its crew to engage the bunkers. The gun crew expended all its ammunition, engging the bunkers, but the third squad met the same fate as the first two. 

Only the direct fire support of two 7.5 cm armored assault guns, Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III), and a Stuka attack finally subdued the French in the bunkers. At 16:50 hours, the 2nd Battalion made its first successful crossing manmling to establish a small bridgehead by 17:30 hours. The commander immediately sent the rest of the battalion across the river and began the advance on Torcy. At 20:00 hours, the regiment progressed to the northeastern edge of the Bois do la Marfee. Engineers ferried the entire infantry brigade and Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland across the Meuse by midnight. The 1st Panzer Division's execution of the river crossing proved successful.


Wikipedia | | Major Florian W. RothbrUst (1988): "The Cut of the Scythe" |

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