By Ernie Pyle

NORMANDY–During the Cherbourg peninsula campaign I spent nine days with the Ninth Infantry Division–the division that cut the peninsula and one of the three that overwhelmed the great port of Cherbourg.

The Cherbourg campaign is old stuff by now. But the Ninth Division has been in this war for a long time and will be in it for a long time to come, so I would like to tell some things about it.

The Ninth is one of our best divisions. It landed in Africa and Sicily. Then it went to England last fall and trailed all winter for the invasion of France.  It was one of the two American divisions in the invasion that had previous battle experience.

Now an odd thing had happened to the Ninth while we were in the Mediterranean. For some reason which we have never fathomed the Ninth wasn’t released through censorship as early as it should have been, while other divisions were. As a result the Ninth got a complex that it was being slighted. It fought hard, received heavy casualties and did a fine job generally, but nobody back home knew anything about it.

9th infantry division cherbourg normandy

Insignia of the 9th Infantry Division

Wants Some Credit

Your average dogfoot will go through his normal hell a lot more willingly if he knows that he is getting some credit for it and that the home folks know about it. As a result of this neglect in the Mediterranean the Ninth laid careful plans so that it wouldn’t happen again.

In the first place, a new censorship policy was arrived at, under which the identities of the divisions taking part in this campaign would be publicly released just as soon as it was definitely established that the Germans knew they were in combat. With that big hurdle accomplished the Ninth made sure that the correspondents themselves would feel at home with them.

Of course, in addition to providing facilities for correspondents, a division has to be good in the first place if it is going to get good publicity. The Ninth is good. It performed like a beautiful machine in the Cherbourg campaign. Its previous battle experience paid off not only in individual fighting but in a perfect way the whole organization clicked.

As I have tried to tell before, war depends a great deal more on organization than most people would ever dream. The Ninth did something in this campaign that we haven’t done in the past. It kept tenaciously on the enemy’s neck. When the Germans would withdraw a little the Ninth was right on top of them. The Ninth moved so fast it got to be funny.

9th infantry Division cherbourg

German soldiers surrender to US troops in Cherbourg

Plenty of Moving

It was based at division command post, and we struck our tents and moved forward six times in seven days. That works the daylight of the boys who take down and put up the tents. I overheard one of the boys saying, “I’d rather be with Ringling Brothers.”

Usually a division headquarters is a fairly safe place, but with the Ninth it was different–something always was happening. One night they had a bad shelling and lost some personnel. Every now and then snipers would pick off somebody. In all the time I was with them we never had an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Our own big guns were all around us and they would fire all night.

Usually German planes were over, too. Droning around in darkness and making us tense and nervous. One night I was sitting in a tent with Capt. Lindsey Nelson, of Knoxville, when there was a loud explosion, then a shrill whine through the treetops over our head. But we didn’t jump or hit the dirt. Instead, I said I know what that is. That’s a rotating band off one of our shells. As an old artilleryman I’ve heard lots of rotating bands.

Sometimes they sound like a dog howling. There’s nothing to be afraid of. “Sure,” said Capt. Nelson, “that’s what it was, a rotating band.” But our harmless rotating, we found a few minutes later, was a jagged, red hot foot-square fragment of steel from a 240mm. German shell which had landed a hundred yards away from us. It’s wonderful to be a wise guy.

For Further Reading Check Out:

The Battle of Cotentin: 9 – 19 June 1944

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