As part of Operation Neptune, the airborne component of the D-Day Operation Overlord in Normandy, during the early hours of June 6th 1944, US airborne troops of the 82nd Airborne Division ( and a few scattered units of the 101st AB) dropped around St Mere Eglise.
Their mission was to cut the main road to Cherbourg and to open up the routes leading to UTAH Beach.
The first paratroopers of the 101st Airborne were dropped at 00:50hrs four miles behind Utah Beach, with the 82nd Airborne being dropped at 01:50 to the west of St Mere Eglise.
Due to heavy flak and winds, the drop was scattered, with many troops landing in the village itself.
One soldier, John M.Steele, one of the mortar platoon of the 505 PIR of the 82nd AB was himself hit in the foot by flak on the decent, and had his chute snag on the church tower. Here he hung during the battle, watching helplessly as his colleagues fought below. Today, during the summer, a dummy hangs from the church tower to remember this battle.
St Mere Eglise today
During ‘D-Day week’, St Mere Eglise can only be described as ‘Airborne Central’. The town becomes alive with thousands of reenactors from around the world, all dressed in M42 jumpsuits. St Mere Eglise is without doubt my favourite town in Normandy.
St Mere Eglise is signposted just off of the main Caen to Cherbourg dual carriageway (E46) about 15 minutes north of Carentan. The town has many small hotels and a municipal campsite, which I highly recommend.
The Dakota Cafe, right on the town square is decorated with US airborne memorabilia, and is highly recommended. (2007)
St Mere Eglise has many WW2 themed souvenir shops, but these can be over priced – so be sure that you know the value of what you are buying.
What to see
St Mere Eglise acts as a centre of attraction for all things US Airborne during the peak visiting months.
During the anniversary week ( around 6th June each year) there is usually a commemorative jump over the original drop zones (DZs).
The church is the centre-point of the village, and each year a dummy paratrooper is hung by his chute, to commemorate the unfortunate landing of John Steele, who got hung up on the steeple and had to pretend he was dead thoughout the night of 5/6th June 1944.
Inside the church there is a stained glass windowcommemorating the US Airborne.
A ‘must-see’ is the US Airborne museum, just off of the main square.
Where to stay
St Mere Eglise is a small village but does have guest houses and small hotels. There is also a municipal campsite right behind the museum.
I haven`t stayed in the town yet, so I can`t recommend any of these personally.