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Centrally located at the base of the Normandy peninsula is a large swamp called the Prairies
Marecageusea de Gorges, with Carentan located to the east and La Haye-du-Puits to the west near the
coast. The Prairies was a formidable barrier to military operations. The Germans utilized this natural
feature by hinging their main defense, the Mahlman Line, to the western edge of the swamp. The enemy
main line of resistance extended west across Hill 122, on whose southern slope was located the dense
Foret de Mont Castre, to the high ground south of La Haye-du-Puits, and thence to the western side of
the peninsula. (20) (See Maps B and C)
Hill 122, core of the Mahlman Line, remained the commanding terrain feature of the entire
Cotentin Peninsula. The enemy employed it to good advantage. Visibility was practically unlimited in
all directions. (21) From this location the enemy had observed all troop movements since the assault on
Utah Beach. His observers had little difficulty adjusting artillery fire on targets in the overflowing
lodgement area. The ability to maneuver was lost to attacking forces until this feature was seized. (22)
(See Map C)
The terrain in this area, as throughout Normandy, provided the defenders with an elaborate
system of natural defense lines. The entire Bocage country was divided into small fields by hedgerows.
Two to five feet high, three or four feet thick, these earthen embankments, crowned with heavy bushes
and small trees, afforded the enemy perfect concealment and cover. Machine-gun emplacements and
foxholes were dug into or behind succeeding rows. Entrenchments, with firing apertures dug through the
embankments, provided the enemy soldier with an impregnable defense. Narrow, sunken lanes, roads
and trails bordered by higher hedgerows afforded the Germans covered communication lines and secure
positions for larger weapons such as mortars and machine-guns. The enemy utilized several successive
hedgerows in depth when on the defense. The forward embankments generally were occupied by few
troops armed with machine pistols and rifles. Wire lines were laid to mortar positions four or five fields
to the rear. The forward elements usually absorbed the initial shock action of attacking units. The
succeeding hedgerows were occupied by greater numbers of troops and more powerful weapons. By the
time attacking forces moved forward through several fields, their effectiveness was greatly diminished
and the main positions were yet to be encountered. It was only by determined and aggressive action that
squads and platoons, by laying down a large volume of fire with all weapons, could advance from one
field to another. (23) (24)
Hill 122 was defended by a battalion of parachute infantry and a company of parachute
engineers, both of which were a part of the elite 5th German Parachute Division. (25)
Aggressive and costly fighting was in store for an attacking unit. It was through this terrain, the
center of Hill 122 and the Foret de Mont Castre, that the 3rd Battalion, 358th Infantry, was to attack.
(26) (See Map C)
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